When Mom Has Cancer
Help & Hope for the Holidays :
Holiday Tips for Families Coping with Cancer
The holidays can be a trying time for everyone, but stress is multiplied for women dealing with breast and gynecologic cancer.
For the nearly 250,000 women diagnosed with these types of cancers in the United States this year, their first holiday season may be especially difficult, both emotionally and physically.
Though it's the season "to be jolly," these women and their families may find themselves struggling with how to make the holidays happy again.
"Traditionally, holidays are the time of year when many mothers feel the need to turn into 'SuperMom'," said Ursula Matulonis, MD, gynecologic cancer specialist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women's Hospital. "If they are undergoing cancer treatments or struggling emotionally, many tasks such as shopping, baking, and decorating may be overwhelming or impossible. We want women to give themselves permission to decide which activities are right for them this year and feel empowered to control the way they and their families celebrate the holidays."
While anticipation of the holidays can be more stressful than the actual holiday, planning and communication can help families get through, and even enjoy, the holidays again.
"Communication is the key to success," said Matulonis. "Acknowledge that the holidays may need to be spent differently. The family should discuss how they would like to celebrate the holidays. Moms and their families should do
what is right for them during the holidays."
Be True to Yourself
Keep in tune with and be honest about your feelings. Express, don't suppress them. Don't pretend the cancer isn't there. If you feel a need to cry or get upset, it's ok to do so. Tears can bring a sense of relief. Be aware of your expectations of yourself and control them, rather than letting them control you. If you feel sad about the year gone by, it's OK to express those feelings. It is common to experience a mixture of anticipation, disappointment and apprehension. Instead, talk them over with a loved one, a friend or a professional counselor.
Set Realistic Expectations
To avoid becoming overwhelmed by the season, pick one or two things that you want to do rather than do the many things you feel you should. Decide and communicate what you won't do this season, instead of what you can't do. Taking on too much or expecting too much will only make the environment more stressful. Keep things simple.
Be Flexible and Fluid
Don't strive for perfection or try to make this the most elaborate holiday you've ever had. Mishaps will occur, but take them in stride, and don't sweat the small stuff. Give yourself permission and be prepared to cancel plans at the last minute, if you're not up to them.
Don't feel you must make every single moment of the holiday season memorable. It is better to limit yourself to a few events instead of drifting from one to the other or feeling too exhausted to be able to enjoy any occasion.
Don't Fear "The Meal"
Don't worry about putting a big dinner together. How about organizing a "potluck" where family members and other guests each prepare a dish? People will understand if you ask them to bring a dish for the meal or ask someone else host the meal this year. If you feel the need to be involved in the holiday preparations, help set the table or dry the dishes. You can even suggest eating out at a restaurant and not have to worry about shopping or cleaning up. Remember there is no right or wrong way to celebrate.
Shopping creates stress under the best of circumstances, but at the holidays, forget about it. Shop for gifts online, or through catalogs in the comfort of your own home and leave the long lines and crowds to others. Send "e-cards" this year. There are many locations on the Internet that are free, fun and simple, and there's no need to buy stamps or go to the post office.
Plan an afternoon outing or a weekend getaway. Spend time with someone you don't usually visit. Spend time in a new or different setting. Even daily exercise can reduce stress by increasing energy.
Break with Tradition or Create New Traditions
Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to keep up with your traditional duties. Change the time of day when dinner is traditionally served to work with how you're feeling. Celebrate in a different room than usual or eat out rather than at home. Start a family keepsake book and record old and new traditions.
Be a Little Selfish
Don't forget to spend some time with yourself. Be sure to take care of your needs; get adequate rest and exercise. It's therapeutic to reflect and think. The less you do the more energy you'll have to enjoy everything and everyone. And you'll be better company the rest of the time.
ASK FOR HELP!FOR THE FAMILY
And accept it graciously when it is offered. The hardest thing to do may be to accept that you can't do it all.
Don't Let Mom Do Everything
Offer to do more and help around the house; let Mom rely on you. Let her pick what TV show the family watches one night or what she wants for dinner. Do what is right and best for her. She'll appreciate it more than you'll know.
Decorate the Home
Make the home a happy place for Mom. Trim your home with mistletoe; it gives permission to hug and kiss. Or make fun, inexpensive ornaments from things around the house. Mom will appreciate the cost savings and thoughtfulness.
Prepare a Coupon Gift Book for Mom
Have the entire family create a book filled with "coupons" that Mom can redeem. Create I.O.U.s good for breakfast in bed, a house full of completed chores or a night out with the girls. The best things in life really are free.
Make Old Friends
Spend more time with your "old friend" Mom. Although she does need to be alone at times, don't let her isolate herself. Get caught up on family history. Ask her about how she spent the holidays when she was young or have her tell you about a "funny" family holiday moment.
Make New Friends
Reaching out to others -- community groups, school friends, volunteer work and helping those less fortunate -- can help to take the focus away from coping with cancer and provide a fresh perspective on life.
Read an encouraging book or watch an inspiring movie with Mom or your friends. Write in a journal or talk to friends about how you are feeling. It can lift your spirits and help you get through a difficult period.
Be Compassionate. Be patient. Be generous.
Work as a team to help Mom and each other. Notice the small, special moments the holidays can bring.
Source: Help and Hope for the Holidays reflects The Gillette Company's continued support in providing women and their families with tools to foster emotional wellness when diagnosed with breast and gynecologic cancers. A gift from the company led to the creation of the Gillette Centers for Women's Cancers at Dana-Farber/Partners CancerCare, in Boston, MA, which is comprised of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the founding members of the Partners HealthCare System, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Also see -> A Breast Cancer Christmas
More about coping with cancer around the Web:
Coping with Cancer During the Holidays - Fact Sheet
Coping with Cancer at the Holidays - Massachusetts General
December 2 , 2002
Last Updated September 7, 2011