Getting through the Holidays While in Treatment

If you are in treatment for breast cancer, what kind of holiday season will you have? What kind of holidays can you have? Well, that depends largely on where you are in your treatment and how you are feeling, not just physically but emotionally.

Holidays can be a stress filled time for any of us. If you are responsible for holiday celebrations for young children or older adults, the cooking, shopping and decorating can prove overwhelming.

You have to cut the workload down and then ask for help. Depending on where you are in treatment, you will need others to help you make the holidays a reality.

Do as much of your shopping as you can online. Groceries can also be delivered.

Organize those offering to help for a specific holiday into teams: decorating, shopping, table setting, cleanup, cooking, baking and any other activities that will need doing.

If you choose to accept an invitation for a holiday gathering, know that you may be asked about your breast cancer. Unless you want to share, be prepared to politely put a stop to this question by saying, “It’s a holiday, and I am taking a holiday from all things breast cancer.” Then change the subject.

The Holidays after Surgery

If you had a lumpectomy but haven’t begun radiation, you probably will feel physically well enough to prepare for the holidays. However, trying to cope with your recent diagnosis and the anxiety about upcoming radiation treatment can make it very difficult to do so.

Recovering from mastectomy or bilateral mastectomy pain and exhaustion may make it physically impossible to host a holiday celebration. Avoiding crowds in stores and holiday gatherings is also a real concern while you are healing. You need to be careful not to be bumped into or hurt in any way.

Emotionally, getting used to the loss of a breast(s) and the newness of reconstruction or the use of prosthesis and subsequent changes in self-image may make it difficult to socialize at a holiday gathering.

Thanksgiving was just a few weeks after my bilateral mastectomy for a second breast cancer. I always had Thanksgiving at my house. Fortunately, I met with my family prior to my scheduled surgery, and I suggested that they make alternate plans that didn’t include me.

I am so glad I did. When Thanksgiving rolled around, I was in discomfort 24/7, tired a good part of each day, and not able to wear prosthetic breasts. The last thing I needed or wanted was to host a Thanksgiving celebration.

A relative suggested that I have Thanksgiving dinner at her home. While it was nice to think about being with family and friends, there was the car travel, with the usual traffic delays, which could be uncomfortable, as well as a long day. There was also the risk of possibly being around someone recently ill or coming down with something contagious.

 While a few family members suggested that they cook and serve the dinner at my house, I didn’t want to commit to a plan I might not feel well enough to have going on around me so soon after my surgery.

I made no plans for Thanksgiving until a few days before. I felt well enough to go out for dinner in a local restaurant with a close friend. It was the right thing for me to do.

By December, I felt well enough to attend some community events and have my son and daughter-in-law and few friends for Christmas Ever dinner.

The Holidays during Radiation

Radiation side effects are cumulative, usually beginning 15-20 days into a 5-7-week course of external-beam radiation. The primary side effects of radiation are energy loss and fatigue. When it sets in, holiday preparations can prove an exhausting extra load to your already busy schedule. If you're  going to host a holiday dinner or gathering, you need to keep the holiday simple, get as much rest as you can, and ask friends and family to help make the holiday possible.

The Holidays during Chemotherapy

Being on chemotherapy during the holidays does not lend itself to hosting a dinner or gathering. Chemo side effects can cause a severe loss of energy. Nausea can cause even smelling food intolerable, mouth sores make eating painful, and loss of taste often causes loss of interest in eating.

If your side effects are milder, you might be well enough to participate in holiday events. You will want to to stay out of crowds as chemo makes you more vulnerable to infection. You also need to avoid holiday buffets. You can't be sure how long food has been out in the buffet, and you are at greater risk of picking up an illness from spoiled food.

Ask those who want to help, to give you a hand with shopping and wrapping gifts, preparing holiday meals, decorating and taking down trees and putting away ornaments.

Holidays can be a lonely time when you are going through treatment. So when invitations come for a short visit, a ride around town to admire holiday decorations, a stop for tea, seeing a holiday movie or just an opportunity to talk be sure to accept them. Sharing these activities with a friend or family member can and will put some cheer in your holidays.  

Continue Reading