Lessons of Cancer – Say Goodbye to Holiday Stress

This is the first time in two years that a little bit of normal is back into my life around the holidays.   Two years ago I came home from the hospital after a Mastectomy on Thanksgiving Day and two days after Christmas, I began Chemotherapy.  Last year I was just a few months post treatment and still too tired to worry about it. But this year there is a little more of a temptation to let the Crazy Christmas mentality back into my life.  I REFUSE TO DO SO!  I had to go through too much suffering and learning during Cancer Treatment to go back to any craziness! If you are going through Cancer Treatment as you read this, the holidays can still be nice for you.  They will not be your old holidays, and they will be cut back greatly because you have no choice.  You do not have the energy.  The choices will be made for you because you and treatment come first.  It will not feel like it, but it will give you valuable lessons that you will later appreciate.

If you are a Cancer Survivor, you have probably learned too much to allow a simple thing like a holiday to make you nuts.  It is way down on the totem pole for that kind of behavior!   Getting ready to go through a mammogram or scan allows you to be nuts.  The holidays do not!

Envision Peace – close your eyes right now and picture your ideal holiday scene.  What does it involve – practicing your faith, being with family and friends, drinking a cup of cocoa in front of a fire, watching “The Christmas Story” for the 47th time or relaxing in your pjs nibbling at food prepared ahead of time? I doubt it included over the top stress, temper flaring, yelling at your family, piling guilt on your adult children because they won’t do what you want them to do, and being a mad woman.  But often that is what holidays consist of which is absolute and utter nonsense! Picture your ideal and then make it happen.  You may not have had control over your cancer or treatment, but YOU HAVE HOLIDAY CONTROL!!

Holiday Schedule – put you and your closest family members on the calendar FIRST not last. During cancer treatment, EVERYTHING revolved around your medical appointments so you are definitely able to keep a calendar!  Go to that calendar right now and mark out sufficient days to do things you and your family actually LIKE to do and are important to you.  Weed out the things you DON’T LIKE to do.  I think we lose sight of what we really LIKE to do!

Plan enough days to do things that you need time to do – like shopping, wrapping presents, or other things that you feel are a necessity for you to do.  If it starts to feel all stressful, cut it out.  Make yourself a priority.  If some social invitation comes in and you already have your calendar marked, JUST SAY NO!   YOU ARE BUSY!!

If you have young children, obviously there are more things to consider.  And if you have a demanding spouse or significant other, rethink their role in the holiday season.  If all of the burdens are being placed upon you, why do you accept this behavior?   Remember, YOU create the rules because usually it is the woman who gets the majority of the responsibility during the holiday season.

Almost every cancer survivor I speak to says one thing they miss about cancer treatment is being able to play the “cancer card” to get out of anything social.  You still hold other cards in your hand, like the “My health comes first” card.  You are still allowed and encouraged to play that card!

However, sometimes we say no to a social event that could bring us much joy in favor of doing something that brings us no joy!   Be cautious to truly think about what brings you joy and feeds your soul before you refuse that invitation.  During cancer, we were forced to hibernate.  Sometimes that gets too comfortable post treatment!

Christmas and Holiday Traditions – Most of us stress ourselves out because “we have always baked grandmother’s cookies” or “I’ve  never missed a year of sending Christmas cards” or “I always put 10,000 lights outside.”  Well, guess what?  You do not need to do any of those things if it causes you stress!  It is not a competition with your dead grandmother!   I find that stress happens to me when I am doing things I do not like to do or if I have no control over it.  If you are going through Cancer Treatment, many of those things are not even an option.   Suddenly they become very unimportant.

Change it up – Two years ago our family had Thanksgiving on the Sunday before Thanksgiving because I was going to be in the hospital.   By being forced to change it up, we found out we LIKED having Thanksgiving the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  We are doing it again this year by choice. Do not be afraid to change up your family traditions to times or places that are less stressful for you.  Or really let go and let another family member host Christmas.  If you are going through treatment, this becomes a necessity.

Make New Traditions – One new Thanksgiving tradition for me is to send Thanksgiving cards to my Breast Surgeon, my Oncologist, and my two Nurse Practitioners for their help and contribution to my healing.  By sending them a card and note every year,  I feel that I can give them gratitude so they can continue to give that encouragement to others.  I can never repay them for all of their help and years of schooling and sacrifices they made to help me.   But I can let them know of my great appreciation for them, so sending them a card makes me be able to give a little back to them.

Cancer freed me from the thinking I have to be busy during the holidays, I have to attend social functions so I can be somebody, and I have to go see The Nutcracker at the local theatre every year. I practice my faith as a Roman Catholic so I want my Christmas to reflect my gratitude to God for life and the simplicity of the Christmas message.

What do you want your holidays to reflect?

Correct Chemotherapy Dosage When Overweight or Obese

As a plus size woman who has struggled my entire life with weight issues, I have been reading with interest the research of Dr. Jennifer Griggs who is an Oncologist and Director of Breast Cancer Survivorship Program at the University of Michigan where I receive my care for breast cancer.  In October, 2013 her ongoing research and the research of others made international news.

Dr. Griggs has studied the topic of whether overweight and obese patients are getting the correct chemo dosages according to their BMI (body mass index) since 2005.  Very often patients are not getting appropriate dosages as this news story from CBS news outlines:


As a patient at the University of Michigan, I always knew I was getting a chemotherapy dosage based upon my weight.  There was a big ritual that was gone through every time I received chemotherapy.  I was weighed not once but twice on two different scales (every overweight patient’s nightmare), a little bit of a panic by your nurse if you lost 5 pounds, calculation by Oncology Nurse Practitioner of your chemo dosage according to current body weight and communication to the Pharmacy, and a rechecking of dosage by two RNs before the dosage was administered.  They calculated my individual dosage according to BMI, had their computer calculators out, checked, double checked and rechecked, and they did it out loud so I could hear it,  showed me the calculations and asked if I had any questions.

But apparently, according to Dr. Griggs’ research, this is not standard procedure every where in the world.  Often overweight and obese patients are shorted chemo dosages.    It makes logical sense that someone who weighs 250 pounds should get more chemo than someone who weighs 125 pounds.  However, giving the correct dosage according to weight can be problematic for overweight patient due to increased side effects.    Since I had a heart attack during Adriamycin Chemotherapy, my heart was at greater risk because of the higher dosage of drugs I received.  On the positive side, however, studies show that heavier patients are less likely to develop dangerous, low blood counts from cancer treatment, and that they clear chemo drugs more quickly from the body than thinner people do.

No matter what weight you are, make sure you ask your Oncologist the question about how your Chemotherapy dosage is calculated and what is the right dosage for you.  IF YOU DO NOT GET ANSWERS that feel right to you, seek a new Oncologist immediately.  Your life depends on it!______________________

Please check out my online store for new items – like cute winter hats!  www.hellocourage.com

After Cancer. . .Superstitions and Tips for Moving On

Recently, I got an email from Jeanie who was struggling with her superstitions and her practicality about getting rid of “cancer stuff” after cancer treatment.  She asked if I struggled with this.  OH MY, I SURE DID!  That means if she and I both struggled, chances are you did or will too!

Based on my own experience, this is what I did to help move me along and get unstuck after cancer treatment.  It is such an emotional time.   One gal who had been through so much said to tell people you are “in recovery”.  I liked that phrase because for some breast cancer survivors, “in recovery” can be a very long process.  To help my recovery, these are a few simple things I did that made a world of difference for me.  Perhaps some of the suggestions will help you.

1)  I donated some used and some new items like my wig to a cancer center.  They were happy to receive it, and I felt so good about doing it.

2)  I boxed up my favorite wig and numerous favorite chemo caps and put them away for safekeeping in the top of my closet where I cannot see them. I gave as little thought as possible to what use they will be – I kept them because I liked them.   This kept the superstitions away.  Just get them out of your sight!  Once you do it, you will forget them!

3)  Get one tote or box and put all of your cancer paperwork in it – and put it away.  Mine is in my attic.  I’ve only had to access it once during tax time.

4)  If you are new to cancer treatment, make sure to keep a journal of all doctor appointments.  When tax time came, I had a list of the 127 medical appointments I had within one year and the fact that I had driven 5,725 miles to those appointments.  I was able to deduct mileage on my income taxes for this.

5)  I moved my bed from the “sick” position.  This helped me get rid of those sick thoughts!  I could not believe the difference moving my bed to a different wall made!

6)  I  vowed  during chemo if I lived I was buying a new couch since I lived on my old couch during chemo.  Mine was 14 years old and still pretty darn good, but once I got the new couch, it made me feel so much better.

I realize it isn’t always practical to buy a new couch, but perhaps you can get some new pillows or throw blanket to change up those old feelings.  Some people lived in a recliner – get a new colorful throw and move it from the sick position in your room to a new location!  It makes a HUGE difference!

7)  I moved all of my decorations and wall hangings around in my house that I used to stare at all the while I was so sick.  Moving this stuff around, putting it in other rooms in my house, etc., and just redecorating with what I had,  really changed up the sick energy of my home!  I also bought some HAPPY CURTAINS from JC Penney!  They have pizzazz and they helped me get rid of the staring at those old blah curtains while I was so sick!  Aren’t they cute?


The only thing that is still in the same place are the stencilled words “We Can Cure You” spoken to me by my breast surgeon, Dr. Tara Breslin.  I say those words every day and thank God for Dr. Breslin’s wisdom and encouragement.  And I keep my Courage Sign and Survivor Sign in sight.  These words meant so much to me during treatment that I  had these words made into Subway Signs and now sell them in my online store www.hellocourage.com to bring inspiration to others.   The Courage Sign inspires me every day because that is what got me through.  And the Survivor Sign teaches me what I need to continue doing to be the NEW me – a thriving Cancer Survivor!  Click on signs for details!  And check out my cute winter hats and jewelry – you don’t have to be in treatment to wear them!      Denise

couragesignudated    Survivor Sign Black