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Coping with Cancer Side Effects This Holiday Season

The holidays, along with their related celebrations and must-do lists, can overwhelm anyone. But, when you’re undergoing cancer treatment, this time of year can be especially draining.

Planning ahead and staying flexible can help keep your days merry and bright. Depending on what treatments you are undergoing and what side effects you are experiencing, there are things you can do to cope with them this holiday season:

1. Fatigue: Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery can all cause increased fatigue. Add in holiday celebrations, and you have a recipe for exhaustion. This year, give yourself permission to decline invitations, do things on a smaller scale, or ask for assistance from friends and family. Loved ones often want to help but don’t know how, so they’d be thrilled to do things like decorate the house for you. And, if a big event is in the works (such as a day-long celebration with family), give yourself permission to take a nap in the middle of it.

2. Decreased appetite: Rich holiday foods that are usually a treat might seem icky right now. If you have mouth sores from chemo, chances are a spicy pumpkin pie is not high on your list of desirable foods. To remedy this, think about alternatives that sound appealing and will still feel special. A creamy pudding might hit the spot and even start a tasty new tradition. If you need other ideas for holiday foods that play well with cancer treatment and its side effects, you may find it helpful to talk to a dietitian.

3. Infection risk: Many cancer patients have compromised immune systems, which puts them at a higher risk of infection. Taking a few precautions can help you stay healthy while you celebrate, including getting plenty of rest, wearing a mask to help you navigate crowds without picking up a bug, and staying away from folks who are ill. Also, this probably isn’t the year to share cups or food with the toddlers in your life.

4. Surgery side effects: Pain, numbness, swelling, and drainage are all common after surgery, and they can make holiday logistics a bit more complicated. Again, remember that it’s OK to limit your activities when you’re not feeling great—even if it is the holiday season. It’s best to talk to your healthcare team members about your side effects, as they can help you manage drainage and prescribe pain medication. You can also work with these professionals to figure out a schedule that will allow you to do what you want during the holidays. Planning ahead and trying to remain flexible will go a long way in decreasing stress and anxiety.

Don’t overlook emotional challenges, too

You may feel extra pressure to put on a happy face this year, but you might not feel joyful at all. Your feelings are valid, whether you’re feeling fear, sadness, or delight. Embrace your emotions: laugh, cry, or do both. Simply saying how you feel can often make things better, so share your feelings with friends, a loved one, or a counselor. And, if lying low this holiday season will make you feel emotionally well, that’s OK too.

Self-care is the best holiday gift you can give yourself. Prioritize what’s truly important to you, and talk to your healthcare team. Besides dietary and emotional support, they can also help you with logistics during this busy time, like remembering to take your medications and scheduling appointments.

Publication
Fox Chase Cancer Center Forward