Take it Easy During the Holidays with Breast Cancer

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • When December rolls around each year, do you feel your stress level rising as the specter of shopping, parties, and travel to the far-off family homestead looms? Even if you enjoy Christmas, Kwanzaa, Chanukkah, the New Year (or your holiday of choice), the deviation from normal routine can be challenging. And if you have cancer, it can be downright overwhelming.

    On the other hand, cancer can be exactly the permission you need to forego any of the ritualistic craziness you usually pursue, out of habit or a sense of obligation. Repeat after me: “I’m not ________ (fill in the blank) this year. I need to take care of myself both physically and emotionally, so I’m taking the year off.”
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    Decorating the tree. Hosting the family New Year’s Eve bash. Baking Christmas cookies. Going snowmobiling with the gang. Where is it writ that you HAVE to do any of these things that have grown to feel more like burden than pleasure?

    Now’s your chance to offload any activities that have stayed on your plate, year after year, through sheer inertia and a sense of guilt. Ditch ’em! And guess what? By next year, a new inertia will have begun to set in. “I didn’t send cards to all my cousins last Christmas. I guess no one will mind if I skip it again this year.” Before you know it, those tiresome tasks you’ve been holding onto will be gone from your life–permanently.

    Now, before you write me off as Scrooge-like in my lack of appreciation for the holidays, let me say that I celebrate EVERY holiday with verve and vigor. St. Patrick’s Day? A green carnation pinned to my jacket. President’s Day? Cardboard cutouts of George and Abe, taped in my front windows. There’s not a single holiday I don’t enjoy. But I never let them get the best of me.

    I sigh with regret when I hear some radio self-help guru droning on about making it through December with your psyche intact. Honestly, it’s not that hard to enjoy the holidays. You simply have to keep everything in perspective, and do what you truly enjoy (the converse of giving up that which you truly DON’T enjoy).

    Me, I like food. Even during chemo, which I finished three weeks before Christmas, though my stomach was going no-no-no, my brain was chortling ho-ho-HO! I’d always made an array of candies for a wide group of friends and family members. The year I was in active treatment, I was clearly without the energy for homemade butter crunch and pecan turtles. So I compromised: I chunked up Oreo cookies, mixed them with chocolate chips I’d melted in heavy cream, spread them on a pan, and broke them into pieces. Honestly, it was all I had the strength to do, but everyone–EVERYONE–raved about “that Oreo candy.”

    And guess what? I’ve made it every Christmas since. Cancer helped me establish a great new holiday candy tradition. And all it took was a simple decision: I’m not going to do what I’ve done every year, what everyone expects me to do. I’m going to do what feels good to me THIS year. And I’m not going to feel guilty.

  • Losing the stress this holiday season is all about giving yourself permission to take it easy. Even if you’re well past cancer treatment, you still owe it to yourself to take care of your health. And stress is the antidote to good health. So kiss it goodbye, along with that standing rib roast you always made on Christmas Eve. That said–the Oreo candy is REALLY good…
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Published On: December 26, 2006