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Holidays, Stress, and Breast Cancer

By November 30, 2012

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Here comes the holidays - and I am never ready! The year that I was in treatment for breast cancer was hard for all the obvious reasons, but when Christmas loomed ahead, I didn't have the energy to panic, much less shop or cook.That year, I was trying to work a full-time job as well as endure the chemotherapy infusions with the epic fatigue that they produced. I was also coping with the loss of a breast, my fertility, my hip-length hair, and my sense that the world was a safe place for me to live in! Holiday shopping? Not for me - I wrote out a list of gift suggestions, handed it off to my husband, and he gamely took charge. His sister kindly invited us for the big holiday meal, so I didn't have to cook. My niece and nephew helped with the kitchen and clean-up tasks while I held down a section of their big comfy sofa. Family and friends were very kind to me that year, and I didn't have the opportunity to become stressed - because I was busy napping.

Every family is different, and they celebrate the holidays differently.  We had the tradition of making a big deal of the year-end holidays - shopping, special baking, cooking more food that we could eat in three days, and trading presents with anyone we knew. My husband and I threw a party for his university friends every Christmas, so the house was cleaned, extra food prepared, furniture rearranged, and all the decorations, lights, and fancy dishes were carefully set out. When that was done, I was wiped out, but still had the family party to arrange!

After I had cancer, we learned to take things more easily. Having faced my mortality, we discussed what holidays meant to us and how we had celebrated in the past. I found that my priorities had shifted. Holidays - as well as every days - became more about relationships, and less about appearances. I started letting go of my perfectionistic attitude toward holidays - after all, the big day was going to happen regardless of how I prepared for it. All the gifts and special foods were nice, but they were ephemeral - they would be remembered for a short time only. What I really wanted to celebrate that year - and in the years since then - was the people, the relationships - who had helped me survive the cancer ordeal. I took many of my self-imposed demands away from myself. I pared down the holiday hype in my own life. I spent more time with people, and less time with packages and wrapping paper. My holiday stress levels went down. This didn't happen all at once - it was gradual - and I could still make my holidays simpler.

Here are my tips for Coping With Holiday Stress and Breast Cancer

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