Voices: Celebrating the Holidays After a Cancer Diagnosis

Celebrating the holidays after a cancer diagnosis: A survivor’s guide | Dee Sparacio

Celebrating the holidays after a diagnosis of cancer can be a challenge. We survivors expect to do things just as we had in the past even though we may be recovering from surgery or going through difficult chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

In 2005 I was in chemotherapy treatment but I still wanted to make those five different types of Christmas cookies, to make ornaments, to decorate the tree, to put up the outside lights, to attend all the holiday parties and to host Christmas dinner. I didn’t want to disappoint my family and I certainly didn’t want cancer to ruin our holiday. But I was so tired I wasn’t sure I could do all I had planned. I was stressing out.

Then I attended a workshop given by the social workers at my cancer center. I left the workshop feeling so much better. I remember Ellen, the social worker, telling the group it was okay for survivors to put themselves first during the holidays. She also said it was okay to cut back on activities and more importantly to ask for help or let family and friends take over some of the festivities. What a relief.

Based on my experiences, here is my advice on facing the holidays after a cancer diagnosis:

  • Prioritize the activities you absolutely love to do and concentrate on those. You can always go back to the skipped activities next year.
  • Invite friends over to help you put up the tree.
  • Still need more cookies? Ask friends to bake an extra batch for your family.
  • Enlist your children to help make cookies and decorate the house.
  • Put some decorations on/by the front door and skip standing out in the cold putting up those string lights.
  • Too tired to shop?  Buy gift cards or order online and have the gifts shipped directly to family you won’t be seeing in person.
  • Remember to get your rest.
  • It is okay to say NO.

For me the Christmas of 2005 was wonderful. I made two batches of cookies (instead of five) and watched as my daughter made another batch. My son decorated the tree. I bought a kit to make that year’s ornament and put a pretty wreath on the door. There were no outdoor lights that year but I have gone back to hanging a string of lights every year since.

Every Day is a Blessing!