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Life after cancer | Coping with holidays

 I am ashamed for feeling so depressed during the holiday season. I feel sad and I don't want to let my family see how I am feeling. Is this normal? How should I feel?

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 I am ashamed for feeling so depressed during the holiday season. I feel sad and I don't want to let my family see how I am feeling. Is this normal? How should I feel?

 Cyndee, Pennsylvania, USA: You have every right to be blue during the holidays. Right now you are going through an enormous emotional period. Holidays (on TV, anyway) are shown as this fantastic, happy time of year. Long-lost relatives and family members find their way home just in the nick of time for Christmas celebrations. Grandmothers snuggle grandchildren on their laps and read "T'was the Night Before Christmas" in a real "Norman Rockwell" type of setting... while the rest of us continue on with our imperfect lives.

Now add to this the terror of HAVING CANCER. We have many thoughts while we battle the beast; a familiar one for me is this: "Will I be alive next year? If I am not alive, will I have left the family Good Memories from this year's celebrations?" Every year I become an actress so that my family will not be upset by such cruel thoughts and I suffer in silence agonizing over this question, wishing the holidays would pass quickly so I don't have to think about stuff like this.

It is perfectly understandable that you would feel down and scared and full of questions, and almost afraid to hope it will all turn out okay. Chemo always put me on an emotional roller coaster - there was one day after each treatment that all I did was cry or yell at someone. Then I would cry because I yelled and made them feel bad. Then I would apologize and cry because I was just so mixed up and frustrated and frightened. After a few hours of this I was fine. The emotional upheaval of cancer doesn't stop for the holidays.

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 Nancy T., California, USA: When you are faced with something serious, the holidays are the worst time of year. I know it is supposed to be a wonderful time of year, but for some people, it just cannot be. We remember *what used to be* and can't get used to what is now. Don't be ashamed of your thoughts or how you feel today.

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 Lola, Utah, USA: The holiday season is considered special because of time with family and friends, remembering etc. The season often emphasizes our core values and beliefs. Boldly, the media and the stores remind us that the holidays are a time for Joy and Good Cheer. There is magic in the air; the tunes and traditions are ever-present to experience again. For those in the thrall of treatment and fatigue, it can be an enormous pressure trying to do what you have always done, forging through this time of year with minimal modifications to your activities.

Having cancer changed how I felt and how I responded to a lot of things, including the holidays. I appreciated my family, but journeying through the festivities as a good little soldier was emotionally very hard. I don't think I really knew *how hard* at times. On the outside, I made a gallant effort to participate, often overdoing things, ignoring my own physical and emotional limitations because of not wanting to offend those that I loved. But inside, I desperately needed to give myself permission to have a few low days, to ponder what had changed for me, what I could not control. I told myself, "It's okay to leave the cheer at the last party and wonder, on the drive home with my husband, will I be here next year with him? IF I will not be here, do I want to spend the holidays this year like this?"

These are all questions we can only answer individually. Perhaps being free to make choices, even if we didn't choose what those choices are, is more important than any outcome or even the perceptions of others.

Am I talking about becoming cranky? Nah, there are enough people who are at this time of year - even without cancer. :-( I'm talking about allowing ourselves to go a little further towards our own sense of ownership over our own cancer experience. Use this time of season to remember that reflecting is part of taking time for us: identifying and revelling in our blessings, but not holding back in acknowledging our losses too.

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 Jen S., Ohio, USA: The holidays are a hard time for me generally. So much of what is really important goes unnoticed because everyone is so busy trying to find that perfect something for someone and fighting the crowds to make sure they get it.

More than any other year, I am grateful for the gifts that I have already been provided. First, I have my life; my heart continues to beat. I have my family. My husband and daughter are the reason that I get up everyday. If it weren't for them, I very seriously doubt that I would have fought the beast as much as I have. I have my mother, whom I learn to value more and more everyday. I can hear, see, smell, taste and touch -- each a small miracle in its own right. And the list is endless.

As much as I hate the beast, I am grateful for the things it has made me see. I no longer take each day for granted. But I have also learned that it is ok to be mad at what you can't control; that life isn't always fair and that I don't have to accept that and just move on. (Mother's words echo in my head, "Life isn't fair -- get over it.")

My husband and family are so frustrated with me this Christmas because they keep asking for a list of things that I want and I can't think of one!! I have all that I need and I am so grateful for what I already have that it seems silly for me to ask for more.

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 Katie, California, USA: I'm another holiday "diagnosee" - heavy bleeding on Thanksgiving, diagnosis of cervical cancer on December 8, surgery two days after Christmas, and then home from the hospital on New Year's Eve. I dreaded the holidays for several years after that, because of all the bad memories the season churned up. I went through the motions of merry-making for my family, but my heart wasn't in it. Now, seven cancerfree Christmases later, I find that something very odd has happened - I am actually looking forward to the holidays.

Yesterday I received my annual "how's your health" letter from the tumor registry of the cancer center where I was treated. As I replied to the questionnaire, I thought, "Well, I'm still here - what better way to kick off the holidays!" I'll be looking forward to this letter - the first "Christmas card" of the season as it were - next year and, hopefully, for many years to come.

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