Cancer and the Holidays: Embrace the Little Things

November 28, 2017
Dana Stewart
Dana Stewart

Dana Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32. She is the co-founder of a cancer survivorship organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society. She volunteers as an advocate and mentor, focusing on young adults surviving cancer. She enjoys writing about life as a cancer survivor, as well as connecting survivors to the resources, inspirations and stories that have helped her continue to live her best life, available at

The holidays can be wonderful and tough at the same time. Your approach to them is what makes all the difference.

As far back as I can remember, I have always loved the holidays. As a kid, how could you not love knowing that one morning you would wake up and there would be all these amazing toys and gifts given to you. It was awesome! As I got older, I still loved the holidays, but it was way less about the gifts and all about the family and friend time.

Now, as a cancer survivor, it means even more. My last chemo was two days before Thanksgiving. That could not have been less ideal. However, what was ideal was just being done with chemo, so I refused to move that last scheduled treatment. I love Thanksgiving more than anything. It is my favorite holiday. I knew it would be tough with my last chemo, but it also seemed like the ultimate Thanksgiving blessing.

I had the best thing to be thankful for come Thanksgiving Day — I was done! I also knew it meant my Thanksgiving Day would be extremely limited for me and it certainly was. I crawled up the stairs to my bed at 6:15 p.m. while everyone was still wining and dining. I just had to call it quits for the day.

That day was seven years ago. I can’t believe how time flies. However, I look back at that day and I think of where I am today and I am grateful. I don’t dread the holidays; I greet them with a huge embrace. I know they can be extremely happy times for some, and extremely grueling times for others.

My family has had some rough patches. We had to push through a number of deaths in the month of November and a few that happened just as Thanksgiving was about to hit. My grandma passed right before Christmas, and her service was Christmas Eve. My family and I were just discussing how odd it is that these things always seems to happen right around holidays. However, we refuse to give in to that darkness just sitting right outside the door, waiting to come in and drape our get together with sadness, fear and anger. If we give in, it wins. And yes, I get how hard it can be. As I just explained, I have experienced the holiday heartache from a number of different angles over the year. However, I see so much about how to just get through the holidays — how to deal. Why approach it that way? Why approach anything that way? It has never made sense to me.

Everyone is battling demons, fears and all the other monsters that life deals to everyone. Whether it is the holidays or not, those monsters can show up at any moment. It’s the approach that makes the difference. I am not saying to skip through every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas as if it is the greatest day of your life, but take a step back and admire the twinkling lights. Breathe in the fresh cut pines and admire the beauty that is the holidays. Allow it to patch up some of the holes that cancer or any losses have ripped open. Go to that holiday party. Watch that Christmas movie. Walk through your town and take a look at the holiday lights. Allow yourself to just enjoy, if only for a couple minutes. You might be surprised at taking this approach instead of telling yourself that you are just going to try and scrape by and barely make it through the holidays.

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