Cancer Survivor Shares Holiday Thoughts for Less Stress


Clutter clearing speaker/author turned two-time cancer survivor shares her holiday tips.

Financially, physically, mentally and emotionally, the holidays can drain us—even before we had cancer. Ironically, it can be a tough time of year on our spirituality, relationships and family, and even career. Now can be the time to get off the holiday bandwagon. It may be simpler than you think, and, guess what, you wouldn’t be alone!

Even people without cancer sometimes choose not to bake cookies. I heard about it at my November simple living group meeting one year. Two women, without so much as a twinge of guilt in their voices "confessed" that they didn't bake Christmas cookies! One said she buys them or simply let others bring them. The other woman said she makes banana bread for gifts instead because it is simpler. How dare they! I was more envious about their obvious lack of guilt than about the fact that they didn't bake cookies.

Another woman talked about the last time it was her turn to host the extended family holiday dinner. She decided to forego the expected traditional Swedish multi-course extravaganza in favor of a make-ahead stuffed shell pasta dish, tossed salad, and garlic bread. The audacity! I had read about this tip before, but I had never actually done it!

The point is, we can choose to drop, change or simplify a tradition. Especially as cancer survivors, this makes great sense.

Exhausted after cancer treatments and when planning and organizing only take you so far, how do you simplify after that? Who would care if I didn't make so many cookies this year? Who would feel bad if the meal wasn’t as elaborate as last year? Who would notice if the gifts were fewer or less extravagant this time around? I suspect the answer is me, maybe even just me. I let myself make the holidays too busy, complicated and stressful because of my own expectations. Since cancer, I have really, really changed my expectations.

In holidays past, I have unintentionally run my family and myself physically and emotionally ragged to meet unimportant expectations that I clung to in my head. I felt like activities and events that were supposed to be fun just turned into more stuff to be gotten through and crossed off the holiday to-do list. I have been relieved when the holidays were over. Whew! We survived another holiday. We are off the hook for another year.

Before cancer, I know there have been times during past holidays where I have foolishly exchanged spirit and kindness for quantity just to meet my own expectations. I ignored my gut and pressed forward. Have you ever done that? This year we can choose to notice and heed the nagging twist in our hearts that happens when we strain ourselves to achieve overblown holiday goals. We can step back and pause to re-evaluate our choices and the impact those choices have on our family. I now make fewer cookies. I will make cookies with my daughters, and when it stops being fun, we will stop. If I have spare time, I may make more by myself—if I feel up to it. I now try to buy some simple gifts from the heart, and when shopping gets too crowded or boring, I say enough. I will not whip myself or my family into an unhappy frenzy for an elaborate meal or for a clean house. It just isn't worth it. I don't want my kids to remember their holidays like that or me that way!

If it isn't simple enough, easy enough or joyous enough, don’t do it. Most importantly, don’t let yourself feel guilty for those choices. I will choose to feel peaceful and grateful for having the chance to make better choices. Maybe I am getting closer to the true spirit of the holidays. Maybe cancer even helped me prioritize this hectic time of year a little better. I don't know. I just know that when I have opportunities to trade guilt and frustration for peace and joy this month, I will take them — for me and for my family, and you can too!

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