Coping with Christmas and coping with cancer
Seeing the first decorations and marshmallow Santas in the shops reminds us that Christmas, and all it brings, is approaching. It is called the “silly season” for good reason as a time of giving, joy, thanks, relaxation and indulgence! Getting to this point has its challenges, however. Let’s think; there’s the family politics to entangle (whose turn is it to host, who refuses to be in the same room as whom), presents to buy (battling for a car park, finding something for the “woman who has everything” and then finding a way to pay for it all), the food to organise and eat (discussions about turkey vs ham vs seafood, or all three somehow elaborately rolled together a la Masterchef, “no really, I couldn’t have another bite”), alcohol and its’ effects (belligerent guests giving their opinions and advice on any number of issues) and so it goes on. Christmas can be a wonderful time, but it can also be a stressful time, even for those who are not facing cancer on top of it all.
So how do things change when you are facing cancer?
For many people (and those that love them) who are facing an illness that could be life-limiting, this time of year becomes even more meaningful. Christmas is often filled with memories, about what life was like when we were young, the happy times or troubling times we have experienced, the people we love and those we miss. If you are newly diagnosed it is easy to think about how, with hindsight, things seemed easier last Christmas “I should have appreciated things more” or to lose confidence in the future so feel more fragile. What about next Christmas or in five year’s time? Minds can drift into the future and dwell on uncertainty, leaving you feeling anxious or sad.
Having said that, many people find it’s not that grim! Family and friends can make more effort and give you support, laughter and kindness when you really need it.
Whether you have just been diagnosed, are recovering from surgery, having chemotherapy, radiotherapy, palliative care or re-investing in a future after cancer, there are particular challenges at Christmas. Energy, motivation and enthusiasm are low when you are living with, or recovering from, cancer or caring for someone who is. You might struggle with your own or others’ expectations in the preparations or the day itself. Tempers can fray, sleep can be affected and tolerance can be low for the little things, like whether the avocado will ripen in time, or the tablecloth is ironed, that might not seem so important anymore!
So how do you get through it all?
Be rational about the things that matter and those that don’t. Explain this to others especially if you haven’t seen them for a while. In the past, you might have insisted on baking, mowing, car-detailing and eating everything at the feast. If it is too much now, delegate, share, prioritise and spend your energy wisely. Not being able to do things in exactly the same way is not the same as ‘failing’ or never doing them again. Pace yourself, take a break when you need to, shop online, get groceries delivered or the lawn mowed professionally for once; there is no point in speeding towards the energy “red light”! Don’t pressure yourself about eating if your appetite is low or you feel nauseous; maybe this year the family decide not to eat at the table so you feel more comfy. If you are concerned about being asked “how are you?” or told “you look tired” or “I knew a person who….then horribly…” (as people unhelpfully do!) think of some phrases to have up your sleeve.
Try “I’m trying my best, getting through, thanks for asking” or, if you like and trust the person, take that opportunity to talk and tell them how you really are.
For the impending horror stories try “I only listen to stories with happy endings!”
For the comments on how you have changed “thanks for your concern, but today I’m just focusing on enjoying things as they are”.
Doing exactly that is a powerful way to cope; enjoy the little things, just as they are.
The craziness isn’t necessary; talk and plan with others. It’s tough for everyone, so be honest about what bothers you and, for this year at least, embrace what matters and soak up the joy in the moments, the little things.
Here’s a bit of a “cheat sheet” to help you remember some ways to cope in this silliest of seasons…..
C Come Prepared for the “how are you?”
H Happiness is about moments, not expectations
R Realise what matters and focus on that
I It’s ok to feel how you feel; don’t be so hard on yourself
S Share the load, it’s not all up to you
T Taste and eat what you feel like, leave what you don’t
M Make a time and a place to have a rest
A Accept that things may be different this year
S Save energy for the things you enjoy and care about
We wish you all the best during this Christmas season.