By: Dr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer and a licensed psychologist.
Will it be my last? I am doing pretty well. Treatment is coming along but it is my first Holiday Season living with the knowledge that there is this aggressive invader in my body. What am I to do? Sound familiar? Identify?
Living with a cancer diagnosis is not for the faint of heart. And the Holiday season only amplifies the reality that you have come face-to-face with your own mortality. This diagnosis like none other slaps you into the reality that life is not forever for anyone, especially your life, as you are actively fighting for it. I found it helpful during my treatment to keep my life as “normal” as possible. So here are a few to-dos that might be helpful.
- Do decorate but do not go over board. Your energy is needed to heal.
- Do buy your favorite foods even if they don’t taste quite the same.
- If you are one of those who loves to cook or bake then choose a favorite and make it.
- If you send out a Christmas letter then focus on the positives of the treatment process and use the letter to tell them what you need to hear from them this coming year. The reality is no one knows what to say and often say nothing in order to not say the wrong thing. So include a little paragraph that says something like this:
- “I know the C word makes everyone nervous and afraid. Thank goodness Cancer is not contagious and you can’t transmit it by talking about it. Do not be afraid to ask me, “How are you doing?” Don’t be afraid to ask me, “Do you want to talk about it?” Or “What do you need?” I have good days and bad days and often times I don’t know what I need but it feels good to be asked. And what I need to hear from you most is: “I don’t know what to say or ask, but I am wanting you to know you are important to me, what can I do?”
- If you love shopping, go at off times when everyone else is at work.
- Listen to great Christmas music and if you get bored or teary with it, then switch to music you really love. Don’t be afraid of your tears. Tell your journal how you are feeling and what you are experiencing.
- Watch holiday movies. Go to a play or live performance.
- Get outside. Bundle up and walk around the block or drive to a park. A change of scenery always feels good.
- If you are too weak to drive have someone take you to see Christmas lights.
- Buy an adult coloring book to color in as the days turn into weeks and weeks into months. Coloring can be a useful and fun activity that keeps your mind from worrying so much.
- Drink tea. It is a wonderful healing ritual.
- Wear your favorite and most comfortable clothes.
- And if you are traveling for the holiday on trains or airplanes consider wearing a mask in addition to keeping hands clean to help protect from others’ germs. These are not full-proof measures but the extra steps do help.
- And, best of all, give yourself permission to NOT do anything you don’t want to do. If you hate wrapping presents, switch to gift bags only. If you hate cooking, order your holiday meal. Pamper yourself.
Create new memories for next year. Having cancer is a real bummer but do not let it control you and your mood. You are still alive right now and use this time to make the most of it with your loved ones. None of us are immortal. We will all die. We do not get a choice about that. But we do get a choice about how we live and what we create while we are here. Never allow self-pity to steal your joy. Find something to enjoy everyday. Give back. Call a friend who is down and cheer him/her up. Look for ways to make a positive difference in the lives of people around you. You may have cancer but that does not mean your entire identity has changed. Don’t let cancer own you. Live your life the best possible way and get determined to enjoy this Holiday Season regardless. Turn up that music now!
Dr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.