Boundaries Are Essential for Happy Holidays During Cancer


The thought of hosting family for a week in the middle of cancer treatment made me anxious, so I set a boundary — and felt much better after the fact.

A month before Thanksgiving, we got the call that our niece and nephew (with two adult kids) were planning to come down from Sunday to Sunday to celebrate with us. This was not an unusual call, because we have hosted them plenty of times and were happy to do it. My husband and I automatically said yes, come on down.

In the middle of the night, I woke up in a panic, thinking, “How in the world am I going to entertain four guests for a week? They always help, but it’s still a lot to have company for that long while I’m on chemo treatments and not always feeling great.” Just thinking about the shopping and preparations I needed to do in the house made me queasy.

I mulled it over for several days and was very stressed and overwhelmed trying to figure out how I was going to pull this off. I said to my husband, “If I’m this worried and stressed now, how bad will I be during Thanksgiving week?”

I thought about my body having to manage more stress while trying to get my cancer under control. I thought about the physical drain of entertaining and trying to be the “hostess with the mostess.”

I then thought about a line I have heard many times when traveling by air, “If we need to have the oxygen masks on for any reason, please put your mask on first, then assist others that need your help.”

I realized that my health right now is my number-one priority and I need to do what’s best for me first. It was one of the hardest calls I’ve had to make in quite some time, but I called and said that the visit cannot take place this year like it has in the past. They were initially quiet, and I’m sure taken aback, but they said they did understand. After the call, I felt immediate relief. The additional pressure was off.

This is the time of year when there is added stress to our already busy schedules. Whether you are in treatment, in remission or a caretaker, stress is bad for everyone involved in our cancer journey.

It’s also a time of year where family traditions become standard operating procedure. There are family dinners, friend get-togethers and many other social obligations. There is extra shopping for food and gifts, more cleaning to do and decorations to make things look festive.

We have enough on our plate. Unless your family or friends have traveled the cancer journey, they have no idea what we deal with every day, both emotionally and physically. If we’re in treatment, we have the next scan on our mind. If we are in remission, we worry about recurrence.

Our goal is to survive and live as long and joyfully as possible. We need to take care of ourselves first and set up boundaries to protect our mental and physical capabilities.

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