Justin Birckbichler is a fourth grade teacher, testicular cancer survivor and the founder of aBallsySenseofTumor.com. From being diagnosed in November 2016 at the age of 25, to finishing chemo in January 2017, to being cleared in remission in March, he has been passionate about sharing his story to spread awareness and promote open conversation about men's health. Connect with him on Instagram @aballsysenseoftumor, on Twitter @absotTC, on Facebook or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tis the season to be jolly! Here are some ways to support a loved one with cancer during this festive wintertime.
Despite the grueling days of chemo and all its side effects in December 2016, I did my best to maintain my Christmas spirit. As I look back, I realized that there were certain things that helped me a lot during the holidays. The following list details ways loved ones can support a cancer patient during this time of year.
Do things for them.
Cancer treatments take a lot out of you, both physically and mentally. I didn't always have the strength to do things or the mental fortitude to carry out traditional holiday tasks. I needed help, but I didn't necessarily want to admit defeat and ask.
My brother, Kyle, was still at my house after Thanksgiving in 2016, which is the only acceptable time to begin setting up for Christmas. Since I was still recovering from my orchiectomy, I physically couldn't put up our wooden reindeer in my front yard. Kyle noticed this and asked if he could put them up for me. Unfortunately, I didn't have an excuse for making him do it again this year.
What can you do for the cancer patient in your life? Think about what they have done to celebrate on past holidays and ask them if you can help create the same amount of cheer this year.
Do things with them
One big thing I struggled with during treatment was the feeling of total dependence. I'm sure I'm not alone in this, so help the patient regain their sense of independence by doing holidays activities alongside them.
Since I was going to be spending most of my time in my bedroom during recovery from chemo, that's where I wanted my Avengers-themed Christmas tree. I wanted to decorate it myself, but I knew I couldn't carry a tree upstairs, open the ornament boxes and so on and so forth without getting exhausted. My mom, knowing how important this was to me, stepped in to help and said, "Do you want to do this together?" She brought the tree upstairs, opened the boxes, and then handed me the ornaments. I got to put the ornaments where I chose, including placing Iron Man so he looks like he's battling Captain America.
Whether it's decorating the tree, making cookies, or something else, be on the lookout for something that you know your cancer patient wants to do and can do, but may need help completing. It's a small gesture, but it will mean the world to them.
Let them do things for you.
Another favorite of my many holiday traditions is creating an ugly Christmas sweater. I've made some doozies in the past, and last year I was determined to do the same. My then-fiancée, Mallory, told me that her school was hosting a competition and asked if I wanted to help make hers. Not only would I help; I wanted to do it myself.
Over the course of a few days, I designed and built a fireplace sweater, complete with a three-dimensional mantle, battery-operated lights, and fake candles. Spoiler alert — she won the competition.
Small gestures, like this and others, are moments I saw as major wins. Cancer patients don't always need everyone doing everything for them, so let them do something nice for you when they offer.
Bring on the presents.
It wouldn't be a Christmas post without the mention of presents. Small things can help brighten a patient's whole day.
The gift that made me laugh most came from my friend Quinn. Along with a Kylo Ren care package, he sent what appeared to be a coin purse. Upon closer inspection, it was a dried kangaroo's scrotum from Australia — something that made me laugh as a I was facing problems in my own "coin purse," thanks to testicular cancer.
But not all gifts need to be cancer related. Another friend got me a memory foam body pillow upon hearing I had difficulty sleeping. Listen to what the cancer patient needs. We don't all need another "Cancer Sucks" shirt, but there may be something else that we can use to help make life a little easier during chemo.
Be the cheer.
I take Christmas cheer to insane levels, but not all cancer patients feel the same. Help them find the sense of joy. There are plenty of holiday song playlists to choose from, or maybe you can drive them through the neighborhood of lights.
One thing to possibly avoid: making every conversation about cancer. Sometimes we just want to forget and enjoy the spirit of the season. Sure, it's OK to ask about it and how they're doing, but don't dwell on their diagnosis.
Respect that they might not be so cheerful.
The holidays can be tough for someone with cancer. Sometimes they have to be quarantined from others due to germs, they may look differently than normal, or any number of reminders that life is anything but normal. These feelings are totally OK, and it's also OK to not understand what a cancer patient is going through. Be cognizant of this and be the friend they need you to be. Don't make a hard situation worse by demanding that they show Christmas cheer and positivity at all times.
Even though I love the Christmas season so much, I personally understand that it can be a trying time. I'm not currently in treatment, cancer is still never far from my mind. December is a scan month for me, which is not as great of a gift as turtle doves or lords a-leapin'. I'm doing what I can to not dwell on these thoughts.
Nevertheless, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year in my opinion and I hope these tips help others to find the same joy. I look forward to it all year round, and this year is no different.