Q. I was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago and I don't feel much like celebrating the holidays. I'm worried I'll be a downer for my family and I'm not sure how to act.

A.

Adjusting to the reality of a cancer diagnosis and the changes to your life takes time and energy. It makes sense that you don’t feel like celebrating. You’re probably experiencing many feelings: some negative, such as uncertainty about the future, and also some positive, such as gratitude for the love and support of family and friends. It’s okay to not feel up to celebrating, but you should try as much as you can to not let your fears about being a “downer” keep you from staying connected with the important people in your life. Here are some practical tips that could be helpful to you:

  • Keep your expectations realistic. Know your physical limitations and give yourself extra time to rest as needed; anticipate that strong emotions will hit you unexpectedly, and give yourself permission to be less than “joyful” all the time.
  • Delegate — let others help! Create a list of tasks you can ask others to take on for you accomplishes two things: it helps distribute responsibilities in a more manageable way, and people feel more comfortable when given something specific to do to help.
  • Save your energy for the important stuff. In other words, prioritize and pace yourself. If you need to turn in early, or aren’t able to eat in your accustomed way, just let people know. Everything doesn’t have to be done all at once: enjoy what you can now, and look forward to enjoying more in the future. Maintaining holiday traditions is important, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be altered or replaced with new ones.
  • Share your feelings with others. Don’t be afraid to express your feelings and concerns to family and friends. But consider in advance how much you feel comfortable sharing, and how much the other person may be able to hear. These are judgment calls, and not easy to make, but remember that the goal is not so much about imparting information, as it is supporting and enriching relationships.

For additional tips, please read CancerCare’s fact sheet, Coping with Cancer During the Holidays.

Another source of information is available from the American Cancer Society.