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Holiday Stress When Coping With Cancer
December 23, 2019 – Barbara Tako

Holiday Stress When Coping With Cancer

A two-time cancer survivor suggests simplifying the holidays when coping with cancer.
PUBLISHED December 23, 2019
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

It appears the holidays may stress out as many as 88% of Americans and that is before throwing a cancer diagnosis into the data. As a cancer survivor who is several years out from each diagnosis and a simple living speaker-author , I struggle to come up with the best holiday-simplifying advice I can for fellow cancer survivors and their loved ones.

Cancer survivors, whether in active treatment or several years out, may feel weary and emotionally fragile around the holidays. I know I do. The strain of coping with cancer can add to increased frustration and vulnerability during this season. Here, I hope that my thoughts and experience may help you:

Cut the household clutter. Either before or after the holidays can be a good time to reduce the quantity of stuff surrounding us. Consider keeping what is beautiful, useful, and sentimental, or as Marie Kondo would say keep "what sparks joy" and let go of some of the rest. If you put up fewer decorations or make fewer varieties of cookies or side dishes, it just will not matter.

Cut the holiday gift "stuff." At least, consider reducing the quantity of gifts that have historically been expected to be exchanged this season. Draw names? Or, consider a one-size-fits-all approach to gift-giving instead of separate-but-equal gifts for each person. Maybe a gift does not even have to be a "thing" at all? Other options include event tickets, restaurant gift cards, or shopping gift cards. If you get the same thing for everyone, it is fair and simple. If it is too late for this year, you can at least mention these ideas while gathered together as a family to think about for next year.

Remember the reason for the season. It does not have to be about over-booking, over-spending, over-cooking, over-decorating, and over-eating. Play a family game or relax and watch a move together. Simplify. Less can truly be more fun. Try it.

Be gentle to yourself and your loved ones. Sometimes the holidays can, because they increase our stress and fatigue, "push our buttons." Stop. Take a breath. Take care of yourself. Allow time to recharge your batteries. Schedule time, even though it is busy, to do some things you personally enjoy. A nail care service? A movie? An hour with a good book? A nap? It can be anything that helps you step back from the edge and recharges you. Try to let go of unrealistic expectations that may be spinning around in your head.

Finally, give yourself a hug. I learned this years ago from a talk therapist. If there is any time of year when my inner child especially "needs" this, it is in winter around the holidays. Imagine a child-version of yourself who is experiencing holiday stress. Now, imagine comforting, holding, hugging, and offering gentle advice. What would you say? Try this anytime you realize you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed.

Try to let go of some of the expectations and stress and worry. Take a breath. These are the holidays, not cancer. You've got this!

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