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8 Tips to Cope with Cancer During the Holidays

, by Alvina Acquaye, NCI-CONNECT Health and Wellness Counselor

Screenshot of the "8 Tips to Cope with Cancer During the Winter Season" downloadable flyer

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The holiday season is often a time of tradition and renewed hope. It also presents demands like baking, shopping, decorating, parties, visiting with family and friends, and entertaining. If you or a loved one is living with a brain or spine tumor, the holidays may be even more stressful with doctor’s appointments and treatments. If your loved one has passed, this can also bring up a lot of pain and cause stress. You may feel disconnected with those around you and unable to meet the demands of the season.

The following tips can help you cope with cancer during the holiday season and lift your spirits.

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  1. Be in tune with your thoughts and feelings. If you’re in a happy moment and you can’t enjoy it, take a step back to check in with yourself. Identify moments where your thoughts didn’t match the moment. Try to find joy in happy moments, but feel free to allow yourself time to cry and reflect if you need to.
  2. Get support. Make a list of friends and family whom you can count on to listen to your concerns, make you smile, or encourage you. And when you feel overwhelmed or stressed, call someone on your list for support.
  3. Eat healthy foods. Eat a balanced diet that gives your body the nutrients it needs to function correctly. Limit sugary foods and alcohol to avoid dips in your energy. If you have dietary restrictions, plan your meals or eat before attending parties and events.
  4. Ask friends and family to help. If tradition is dinner or a gathering at your house, plan a potluck or suggest an alternative location to family and friends instead. Or use your support list to call friends and family to help you clean and prepare, wrap presents, decorate, and play a role in the celebration.
  5. Start a new tradition. It’s also OK to say no to your old traditions. Ask family and friends to video chat or send a personal note to communicate your holiday wishes if you don’t have the energy to visit in person or attend an event. Plan a fun trip and go somewhere you have never been.
  6. Take care of yourself. Identify activities that are rewarding and make you feel good and relaxed. For example, walking, dancing, painting, or getting a massage. Be aware of the physical stress of entertaining and traveling and do not overexert yourself. Allow yourself to take small steps to complete tasks and do what you can to preserve energy.
  7. Don’t blame yourself. The things out of your control are not your fault. Be mindful of your self-blaming thoughts and instead be positive and focus on things you can actively control. The holidays are not a vacation from the challenges of living with a brain or spine tumor.
  8. Make a simple plan and pace yourself. Identify tasks that can cause stress—such as shopping, cooking, and entertaining—and plan to scale back. You can online shop, order food, or ask someone to host instead. Choose the activities and situations that are most important and put those on your task list and pace yourself to complete your list. Be mindful to schedule activities when you have the most energy.

If you have a loved one who has passed, the holidays can be especially difficult. Allow yourself to grieve and feel emotions, while also giving yourself a break by distracting yourself with activities you enjoy.

You can celebrate him or her by making a new tradition. Ask family and friends for input on how they want to remember this person. Some ideas include:

  • Writing a letter to your deceased loved one. You can share your feelings if there are unresolved issues or things left unsaid.
  • Having a candlelight vigil or ceremony in remembrance of your loved one with a group of friends and family.
  • Supporting a cause close to his or her heart and yours.

Finally, what is most important is to focus on the present moment and enjoy your holiday celebrations in whatever form they take. The holidays are truly about renewed hope, being thankful, and sharing with family and friends.

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