The holidays can be such a swirl of emotions, taking us all back to our childhoods. But getting through the holidays while going through cancer treatment? I did that for two years, and it was tough. Without the help of my friends and family, I’m not sure I could have done it.
This month, I really want to help make the holidays a little easier for other women whose lives have been touched by cancer — and you can help, too. Visit our Amazon “Give Shop” as part of our #GivingTuesday campaign. You’ll find items we need to fill our SherryStrong Hope Boxes (for women fighting cancer) and Superhero Bags (for children fighting cancer).
Beyond giving back to others to make yourself feel better, the best advice I have is easy to share and hard to follow: You cannot and should not feel guilty about not being able to do all the things you’ve traditionally done for the holidays.
I remember not having enough energy to walk our driveway much less make it to a friend’s party. Internally, chemo had taken my energy. Externally, it had taken healthy weight and all my hair. All. The. Hair. I remember bowing my head to pray one Sunday in church before Christmas, and my nose was running like water. You don’t realize how much your nose hairs hold that in until you don’t have any and your nose runs like a faucet! Lesson learned, bring extra tissue!!!
It takes a lot of energy to prove to people you’re doing OK when you’re rail thin and sporting a wig – and expending that kind of energy defeats the purpose of taking care of yourself!
On the bright side, I was alive. I refused to ever lose sight of that blessing (still do). Another positive: the holidays happen over the brief couple of months when Martin isn’t racing every weekend, so we had more stress-free time together.
I made it. And you will, too. Talking about it helps, and I thought I might share some dos and don’ts that got me through the holidays without compromising my health:
- Find joy in tiny moments. I cherished the smallest of traditions, whether it was baking cookies in the kitchen with my family or going to cut down our Christmas tree. They all made me feel “normal.” And let’s be honest, during cancer treatment, sometimes you just need to feel normalcy.
- Prioritize – and ditch the commercialized guilt. I focused less on material gifts and more on the gift of time together. That only sounds cheesy if you haven’t been diagnosed with cancer. Having cancer changed my view on almost everything, and the loved ones around me didn’t care about presents, either.
- Practice gratitude. I have another whole post about practicing gratitude for you this month because it’s such a meaningful concept for me. Since my diagnosis, I have promised myself to focus on the good and create memories with my loved ones every day. It’s not an easy promise to keep all the time, but sometimes powering through the rough days with a dose of gratitude actually make me even more grateful.
- Smile. Yep, there’s another dose of cheesy – again, only for those who don’t know cancer. I’m not saying you should pretend to be something you’re not. But check out the science behind the concept of smiling to make yourself feel better, because life is too short not to grab onto anything that might bring more happiness into our lives!
- Don’t attend crowded events. Your immune system has been compromised already – don’t make it worse by hanging out with the flu and all its best friends. I was overly cautious about this. I even brought my mask with me sometimes, but I didn’t care. After all, it was my health. My body was already fighting hard enough, I didn’t want to add any unwanted stress to it.
- Don’t put pressure on yourself to volunteer. The good causes you’ve supported in the past will be there year-round, and taking care of yourself now is the best way to ensure you’ll be able to help later on, when you’re stronger.
- Don’t get caught up in perceived perfection. Don’t forget that every perfect holiday greeting card you see features real humans with their own real challenges. It’s easy to be blinded by the shimmer and think you’re the only one who hasn’t sent out cards or coordinated outfits for all your kids/dogs/cats. You’re not. Relax. Imagine the chaotic scenes that led to that nanosecond of photographic glory.
- Don’t feel bad about just saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t make it.” The important people in your life will understand – or you’ll find out who the most important people truly are. I did.
The best gift you can give your loved ones is a stronger, healthier you. That’s really all anyone wants for their loved ones, but it’s so easy to put off self care when the holidays are traditionally about focusing on everyone else. But you have to. I’m asking you to do that.
Stay strong, stay healthy and rest!