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7 Tips for Holiday Peace for Cancer Survivors

Here are some tips to make the holiday season go more smoothly.
PUBLISHED November 28, 2016
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,or
Cancer survivors don’t need the extra stress that sometimes comes with the holidays, right? In the privacy of your own heart, do you sometimes dread holiday chaos and the thoughts of coping with it on top of coping with cancer? This time of year can be physically cluttered and emotionally stressful, even without cancer in the picture. As a clutter clearing speaker/author in my pre-cancer life, here are some easy strategies to try to make your home peaceful and joyous this season regardless of cancer—our unwelcome holiday guest. 

Simple Routines: Try to get into the habit of a 10-minute tidy before bed—spend ten minutes folding blankets, gathering remotes, taking out recycling and trash and clearing off kitchen counters. Start the dishwasher and maybe a load of laundry before bed. Pick up and put coats and shoes away as you straighten the entry of your home. It doesn’t really take long and it will make your home a more pleasant place to wake up!

Next, if you have determined to push yourself a little harder to have an organized home for the holidays, consider staying up 20 minutes later or getting up 20 minutes earlier to tackle a specific area that needs weeding out or organizing. I sometimes hit the snooze bar and waste this time, but I have better luck when I keep a short list with very specific descriptions of the de-cluttering tasks I want to tackle in these sessions. That is the trick to making this work—make a specific plan the night before that your brain can latch onto in the morning even if it isn’t quite awake yet.

Simplify holiday decorating: This will also simplify cleaning during this season. Bring out a few of the most important pieces and the larger pieces. Consider avoiding the dust-collecting small knick-knack décor. If you decide you have too many holiday decorations, joyfully give them to younger family members or friends who are just starting to celebrate the holidays in their homes. Less visual clutter will draw attention to items you want to feature. Fewer little items will mean less to dust and to perpetually rearrange. Who has the time or energy for that?

Drop the perfectionism: “Good enough” truly is sufficient. Don’t be afraid of dust bunnies—many of us no longer see well enough to see them! Don’t be afraid to close doors, especially those leading to teenage bedrooms or little-used rooms or an upstairs. If guests aren’t likely to wander there, don’t worry about those areas!

Simplify food and entertaining: Keep menus simple and encouraging people to each bring an item, or consider bringing in a restaurant or store-bought main course, side dishes or dessert. Plan a game or activity like stringing popcorn or watching a holiday movie together, and consider de-emphasizing the food portion of the program. With food, consider going for quality and eye appeal rather than sheer quantity. Many of us are trying to watch our eating habits.

Reduce gifts and simplify gift-wrapping: I love gift bags and tissue paper, seriously! In truth, the best gift we can give our loved ones and ourselves is the gift of time. The get-together is more important than the exchange of stuff. I think we know this in our hearts. If you do need to buy for several people, try to use one idea over and over if possible. That could mean everyone gets phone chargers or ear muffs or coffee gift cards…you get the idea. Let the focus be on people and time together.

The secret to annual success: After the holidays, take some notes about worked and didn’t work for you this year and maybe start a holiday folder. This will help you get closer to your holiday wishes for next time. Reading a prior year’s notes will help renew your resolve each year and help you plan better for yourself.

Just for you: Plan some pampering for you as a cancer survivor during this stressful time of the year. Schedule coffee dates, or restaurant, or movie plans with friends. Plan to get a manicure, pedicure or a massage. Take a nap. Set aside time to chill and read a book. Watch your favorite holiday movie. If you are nurturing yourself and giving yourself some TLC, then you will be less stressed and more pleasant!

Last but not least, hold in your mind and heart the reason for the season. If you can keep that at the center of your focus, hopefully much of the rest will work. I truly wish you peaceful and joyous holidays!
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