Everyone remembers the day they were diagnosed. When a new diagnosis occurs near a holiday, it can be difficult to cope with this news while trying to survive the most hectic time of the year. Read more below.
The day before Thanksgiving 2009, my husband Joe and I were in the Denver airport headed to Missouri to spend the holidays with family. When the call came from my doctor telling me my biopsy showed breast cancer, the hum and bustle of the Denver airport became suddenly quiet and time stood still. I had a few moments to collect myself before boarding the plane. Throughout that Thanksgiving weekend, I felt detached and raw with emotion. At some times the tears flowed, at others I felt frozen and robotic while going through the motions of the holiday.
As the holidays approach once again, I look back on those memories. I am hoping to give some encouraging words to fighters who face a diagnosis during the holidays. Here are my top strategies and pieces of advice for all of you out there:
1. There will be other holidays.
It is true that today is all that is promised. That goes for everyone though, not just you. It is easy to feel that since you have cancer this could be your last holiday. You don't know that, though. Thinking like this might put undue stress on you to make the holiday the best ever by spending lots of money, buying expensive gifts, etc. Some people find it best to celebrate for more than just one day so they have the energy to take a raincheck and celebrate another day. Perhaps you are so exhausted from the recent news that you can't stay up late on New Year's Eve, for example. Instead, you might decide to make up for it by having brunch and watching the parades the next day. Any day can be a holiday if you make it one!
2. You don't have to enjoy yourself.
Sometimes the pressure of being merry and keeping up appearances can be overwhelming. You are not under any obligation to put on a happy face. Take a moment for yourself, disappearing from the party for a half hour to center can be helpful. Even taking a minute in a room of the house where you can be alone can do wonders. If you are out in public, exiting to the restroom to breathe and distract yourself with your smartphone or anything that shifts focus away from the present situation. Don't be guilted into cheering up so others can feel more at ease. Feel and do what is best for you.
3. Be prepared for advice.
As your family or guests arrive they will likely find out your news. You know how word travels fast, right? Your loved ones will have the best intentions in the world, but that doesn't mean they will give great advice. "It will all work out for the best", "Just stay positive", "I'm sure you will be ok" or other such cliches are meant to help the advice giver feel better about a difficult topic. Don't expect their advice to make you feel better or make the situation more bearable.
4. Take care of your daily needs.
You are going through a trauma. Treat it as such by scaling your life back to the barest essentials even during the holidays, when you are expected to be superhuman. Eat if you can, get plenty of rest, hydration, get some moderate exercise-endorphins are your friends! While under the significant stress this diagnosis will cause it is easy to forget to eat, or have no appetite at all. You may have no desire to shower, wear clean clothes, or brush your teeth. Fight that urge as much as you can. If you stay up on self-care it may be easier to have moments of merriment this season.
Do you have any tips for those who are newly diagnosed during the holidays? Share yours in the comments below.
Heather McDonnell is a writer, social worker and advocate. This year she celebrates five years as a cancer survivor with her husband and co-survivor, Joe. You can find her on IHC under the username gladtobealive34.