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Give Yourself The Holiday Gift Of 'Presence' While Fighting Cancer

Publication: Austin Medical Times, Houston Medical Times, Palesine Herald-Press

Tidings of comfort and joy can take on a different meaning during the holidays as a cancer patient. Some may not feel much like celebrating, especially if you’re a parent with cancer. Adding holiday season pressures and the challenge of fighting cancer to the everyday stress of parenting can be overwhelming.

With so much focus needed to manage your diagnosis and the effects of cancer and treatment, it may be hard or even impossible to maintain some of your family’s beloved holiday traditions. However, it is still possible to have a meaningful and joyful holiday with the ones you love, perhaps with some small adjustments that may make your family celebration look a little different this year.

There’s No “Wrong” Way To Celebrate

Cancer can throw many wrenches into the holidays, from financial hardships and canceled travel arrangements, to missing your child’s holiday performances or school events.

As you navigate these twists and turns, it is important to keep in mind that there is no wrong or right way to celebrate the holidays when you are newly diagnosed with cancer or undergoing treatment. Do what feels right for you and your loved ones, finding joy in the happy moments. While tried and true holiday traditions are special, there is nothing wrong with starting new ones.

Talk About the Holidays With Your Children

Children may be worried about their parent’s health or upset about changes to ‘normal’ family experiences, even more so at the holidays. As a parent with cancer, it is important to talk to your children and be honest, albeit age appropriate, in explaining the potential changes that will affect them.

In a calm and reassuring tone, set expectations about your ability to run around town or participate in holiday activities. This can help alleviate the anxiety and uncertainty children may feel.

Let your children know when you aren’t feeling well but that you love them the same as always, no matter what. Being candid enables your children to ask questions and feel comfortable expressing their own feelings.

Five Tips for Parenting With Cancer at the Holidays

  1. Plan together with your children. Think about the types of things your children can do to help during the holidays. This can contribute to their sense of purpose and closeness to you.
  2. Have backup plans in place and ask for help. Reach out to friends or family if you are not feeling well enough to drive your children to a holiday event. Ask someone to record your child’s performance in holiday productions if you can’t attend in person.
  3. Incorporate technology. Take advantage of technology to bridge the distance with extended family and friends. Just because you aren’t there in person doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate with each other virtually.
  4. Put your health needs first. If it feels unsafe to follow through on holiday plans, it is okay to break from tradition. Give yourself permission to change where, when, with whom, and how you spend the holiday.
  5. Know it’s okay to be disappointed. It is all right to tell your children that this holiday season will be different, and it may even bring some disappointment. Help your children prioritize the important events during the holidays and focus on the purpose behind celebration and traditions.

This holiday season, give yourself and your children the gift of presence. Helping children cope with adversity is a great lesson to provide not just at the holidays, but year-round. Don’t let cancer be the main focus, but instead, take this time to pause, be present, and enjoy the holidays with those you cherish most.

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