Emotional Impact

You Have Cancer? Give Yourself a Special Holiday Gift

PJ Hamel Health Guide December 01, 2012
  • Breast cancer doesn’t offer to give you time off at the holidays. With shopping, entertaining, cooking, and caretaking all ramping up to epic levels, it’s no wonder you want to pull the covers over your head this month. You know what? It’s OK. In fact, it’s a good idea. Here’s why.

     

    You’re a mom. Maybe a grandma. You’re a sister, a daughter, a cousin, a mother-in-law… a wife. 

     

    You’re a woman – and that means you give, and give, and give some more, be it working two jobs to feed your kids, or doing homework with your 4th grader instead of kicking back with a glass of wine. 

     

    But this holiday season, everything is different. You have cancer. You’re going through treatment, or are about to start, or just finished. 

     

    Your energy level is zero. Your reserve of happiness – the glass-half-full attitude you always reach for, when everyone else is grouchy – has disappeared. You’re not giving; you’re barely living.

     

    Do you feel the stress building?

     

    Why do we, as women, feel it’s our God-given mission to take care of everyone around us? There’s an old saying, “You’re only as happy as your unhappiest child,” and every woman I know smiles ruefully when I say those words.

     

    Our personal happiness seems to be based on how successful we are at making others happy. So we comfort, and praise, and commiserate; and in the process of opening our hearts, we lose sight of the fact that the best relationship is a two-way street: equal parts giving, and taking.  

     

    This month, whether you celebrate Christmas, or Chanukah, or Kwanzaa – or nothing at all – you’re bound to get caught up in the crazy whirl of shopping, cooking, and entertaining. You can approach this as a stressful, desperate time, full of deadlines you can’t reach and tasks you can’t complete. Or you can look at it for what it is: the last month of the year, a time when the earth and many of its creatures are at rest. A time of short, dark days, but evenings brightened by the warm glow of lit windows, and happy friends and neighbors preparing for the holidays.

     

    How will YOU handle the holidays this year? Here are some suggestions.

     

    •If cooking the big holiday meal is hard for you – let someone else do it. If you’re a traditionalist, supermarkets often offer complete meals, from roast turkey and vegetables to rolls and dessert. If you’re a family with young kids, treat them to their favorite takeout – be it pizza, Chinese, or burgers. If you’re just a couple, find a church hosting a holiday community dinner, and volunteer – or just go and enjoy. Festive holiday food else is plentiful this time of year; enjoy it. Added bonus: if you’re not the cook, you’re also not the chief bottle washer!

     

    •Forget the elaborate and lengthy gift-shopping list. If you like to cook, bake a couple of batches of cookies, and parcel them out to family and friends. Trust me, cookies are never returned – they’re one size fits all!

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    And if you just can’t force yourself to drop this part of your life – for instance, if you have little ones who can’t understand why Santa won’t be coming this year – shop online. Many online stores offer free shipping this time of year, and you can shop when you feel like it, 24/7, from the comfort of armchair or bed. This is especially important if you’re undergoing chemo, and avoiding crowds is a must.

     

    •Speaking of cookies, if you’re an inveterate holiday baker and are loathe to give up this part of the celebration, make your treats in stages. Many baked goods can be partially prepared, then frozen and baked right before you need them. Here’s a guide to holiday freeze-and-bake I’m sure you’ll find interesting.

     

    •Don’t decorate – let someone else do it. I know, Mom always gets out the decorations, strings the lights, hangs the ornaments, strews the tinsel, and arranges the packages under the tree. Or digs out the menorah, and finds the special candles.

     

    But not this year. If you love a lit tree and a decorated house, but don’t have the energy to make it happen, either enlist your kids; tell your significant other it’s up to him or her; or ask for help from friends. Period. Exhausting yourself for the sake of some holiday bling just isn’t worth it this time around.

     

    •Don’t feel guilty when you turn down an invitation. You know those holiday parties you really, REALLY look forward to every year? Say yes to the invitation, then go and enjoy yourself (within reason; getting totally sloshed on a bottle of wine probably isn’t in your best interest right now.)

     

    And you know those holiday neighborhood parties you get invited to every year, and you don’t know the people very well, and you stand around and feel awkward and come home exhausted from trying to keep a big smile on your face? Say no to the invitation; this year, you have the perfect excuse! 

     

    In fact, say no to anything that doesn’t make you happy; to everything that doesn’t make you feel good. Right now, going through cancer treatment, you have enough bad stuff in your life. Let the special grace it takes to let go – to give in, to accept help, to say “yes, please,” and “thank you” – be a special gift this season: one you give to yourself.