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Cancer and the Holidays: Let It Go, Let It Go, Let It Go

A cancer survivor and clutter clearing expert shares ways to clear the holiday clutter.
PUBLISHED December 21, 2015
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
The holidays can be a difficult time of year with or without cancer. Sometimes the holidays are bittersweet and they can become even more so when coping with cancer or cancer survivorship. If I have learned anything about coping with the holidays with cancer, it could be summed up as "let it go, let it go, let it go." As cancer survivors, we know what really matters and what just doesn’t. I think that knowledge is one of our most important super powers. Consider letting go of all that holiday stuff that you know really doesn’t matter.

I am a two-time cancer survivor and a clutter clearing motivational speaker and trainer. Even before cancer, I was presenting holiday seminars to groups of stressed out people and encouraging them to simplify their holidays. It can be done, especially as cancer survivors.

Let go of the holiday "stuff." People matter. Shared time and experiences together matter. Memories matter. Decorating doesn’t matter. Gifts don’t matter. Baking and elaborate food preparations don’t matter. Agreed? Maybe not completely? After all, it is fun and memorable to decorate or bake or cook together with loved ones. If you are exhausted, it is OK to let others take the lead and just watch and cheer them on. Really.

Fewer decorations are fine. Ask what matters most to family members and ask for their help to get those specific decorations out. I was recently surprised that one of my children hadn’t been aware of the lighted tree, snowman and lighted greenery that I put up outside the front door every year. Great! Those won’t be missed this year. I feel a little sheepish.

Baking? Cooking? Reduce and make just a couple things that are most important or traditional for the family — or delegate or purchase store-bought. The world won’t end if a few side dishes aren’t present. I have served entire holiday meals and left forgotten dishes in the refrigerator or microwave! I just plain forgot to put them out and now I can choose to forget them.

What about gifts? The same simplifying applies to gifts — consider setting dollar limits, drawing names or simply choosing to just be together. We care about people for who they are, not what they gift to us. Let’s give them the same credit for how they feel about us. My only advice here is, again, to let them know what the plan is or decide to plant seeds for next year (give them time to think). People want to help. People try to understand. Let them.

Let go of the “should’s” and “ought’s” of the season. You are loved and appreciated for just being you. Please don’t guilt yourself into doing more than you have the energy, resources or time to do. Be honest with people about what you will and won’t be doing. Whatever they choose to do or choose not to do in response to what you say — that is their choice. Do you have holiday guilt? Let it go.

Finally, let go of the worry. We hang onto impossible expectations sold to us in glossy advertisements and television commercials. We worry that if the holiday isn’t somehow “perfect,” we will be found lacking. Let go of being the holiday magician in your home if that has been your role. It is really like the movie “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” (I love that movie every time I watch it). The holidays will happen whether the stuff and the expectations are perfectly met or not. Sometimes I think this is really the most important message that all of us could learn.

Trust that the holidays aren’t about the stuff. The holidays are about peace, joy, goodwill and being with the people we love. Imperfect? Always. Worth it? Absolutely. The rest of it? Let it go, let it go, let it go.
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