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?



  1. I was fighting against a stage IV cancer and i won, lucky my husband who helped me all the time.I think it is very important that family support to win, because i was very weak;really helped me participate in one group of victims of cancer, so my mood improved, also helped me a adviser of advisercancer-diseases.com(they are doctors).I recomended not surrender, because sometimes the first treatment does not work as me, and change doctors if it is necessary.Read positive thinking books gave me more energy.During my cancer,i changed my diet,now i eat vegetarian organic food(now i not eat meat).I think is a set of things that help me.

  2. Amen Denise. Stress is bad for me also and I do not intend to let it get to me this year. I will do what I have to do and that is it. No more running around like an idiot. It just isn’t worth it. I love the Thanksgiving thing you are doing. If it works, go for it!!

  3. A very wise post Denise. Now that I have my cancer treatments behind me I am starting to think about what I want. Before it was the opposite. Not to be selfish, it’s just about making me a priority. This year I have chosen not to travel back east which I have done every year. And, while it will be a quiet holiday, I am really looking forward to it.

  4. What a great article Denise.  You are so wise.  Thank you for letting all of us know that we don’t have to be involved in every aspect of the holiday season to be happy. 

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