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How to handle the holidays during cancer treatment
Dec 04, 2018

How to handle the holidays during cancer treatment

The holidays are a special time for Laura Bunsen of Albany—a time for family and traditions.

“I love decorating the tree, making candy and going caroling,” Laura says. “My husband makes hand-tied wreaths, and it’s just not Christmas without the wreaths.”

Last year, Laura’s beloved traditions were interrupted when she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. How she handled the busyness of the holidays would have to change, she quickly learned.

“I just didn’t have the energy to do all that I had been doing. That was hard. I had to sit down and break things apart and ask myself what I could let go and what I could delegate to other people.”

Adapting to your new normal
Nurse navigator Kathy Nepper, who connects patients to support resources at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute’s clinic in Corvallis, says it’s normal for patients to struggle emotionally during the holidays and to be frustrated by their physical limitations.

“I suggest to patients that they slow down, allow themselves to do less, and realize that that’s OK,” Kathy says.

Kathy offers these tips to patients:

  • Be flexible and reframe your expectations. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect or even get done to have a wonderful holiday.
  • It’s OK to say no. Your family and friends will understand if you can’t participate in every activity. Pick the ones you can manage and enjoy the most.
  • Be kind to your body. Make time to rest, but also know that finding time to be active, like going for a walk, can give you more energy and help you feel better mentally and physically.
  • Be willing to accept help from friends and family. While that might be difficult, your loved ones want to help you.

“Give them specific tasks that might help you to get things done and also help them feel like they’re making a difference,” Kathy says.

Focusing on what’s important
Laura underwent a bone marrow transplant in April of 2018, and her cancer is now in partial remission. While she has more energy now and is excited for the holidays, living with cancer has changed the way she and her family view this special time of year. She’s learned to let go of her get-it-all-done mentality and focus on what truly matters.

“What’s most important is to just enjoy yourself and the people around you. Cherish the moments, share the love, and be together if you can.”