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Christmas Challenges

Christmas can be a real challenge when going through cancer. Aside from the financial burden that may limit the number of boxes under the tree, the emotional burden can dampen what is usually a happy and cheerful time of year.
PUBLISHED December 26, 2017
Kathy LaTour is a breast cancer survivor, author of The Breast Cancer Companion and co-founder of CURE magazine. While cancer did not take her life, she has given it willingly to educate, empower and enlighten the newly diagnosed and those who care for them.
Christmas can be a real challenge when going through cancer. Aside from the financial burden that may limit the number of boxes under the tree, the emotional burden can dampen what is usually a happy and cheerful time of year.

One year, my support group worked on ways to save Christmas while going through cancer. Our reason was that a rather new member was really struggling because her children demanded that nothing changed from the holidays they have always known. In addition, her two older children knew more of the reality of what was happening and told the two younger kids to lay off with their demands. Mom was doing all she could. Of course, the younger children, depending on what they have been told about the cancer and mom's condition, didn't understand. They just know that it's Christmas and they want to go to the country and cut down a tree, like always.

And they wanted to go caroling and have all the family around for the holiday, no matter if mom or dad gags at the thought of egg nog. And, of course, they wanted to go to the mall and be surrounded by hundreds of strangers to get that one toy that everyone wanted. It’s hard to explain to children the danger of having a nonexistent immune system in a crowd.

We encouraged her to remember that children are flexible and can adapt to new traditions easily. But the most important thing at this time is communication. Ask them what they want to do. If they can't go to the country to cut down a tree, but the children are insistent, who do they want to go if mom is just not up to it?

This will require honesty in communication about why she isn't up to it. Be prepared.

It can also be people other than the children who provide challenges. We know now from studies that caregivers can feel just as impacted by a diagnosis. So, if the caregiver says they don't want to do anything because they don't have the energy or are feeling depressed, it's hard to turn to them to deal with the kids’ demands.

When I overheard my husband tell someone we were doing fine and didn't need any help, I interrupted and said, "He may not, but I do. Let's talk." It is hard to accept help but remember it is a gift not only to you, but also to the one offering.

Again, tell your family what you want. If you can handle one outing, plan it well to fulfill what they want and what you want. Involve those friends and family who say they want to help. Let them.

A wonderful story I heard was about the best friend of the patient going through cancer whose three children were all around 10. Christmas was still special to them, and they all watched as the usual gifts didn't begin showing up under the tree. When mom mentioned this to her friend, explaining the cost and the energy to make Christmas happen were not there, something amazing happened. The week before Christmas, gifts began appearing on the porch, multiple gifts for each child. The friend had engaged one of her many groups and explained the problem.

By Christmas morning, there were multiple gifts for each child under the tree.

We learn many lessons going through cancer, and often they are about love and friendship and giving and letting yourself receive.
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