Survival Strategies For Cancer Survivors Over The Holidays

A breast cancer survivor suggests some ways to warm your winter and survive the holidays in 2020.

“Now is the winter of our discontent” is the first line of William Shakespeare’s play Richard III. In the play Shakespeare was using the weather as a metaphor to convey the temporary nature of bad times, and that they would soon be over. That’s not a bad thought for us cancer survivors, especially during the holiday season.

Christmas and Hanukkah and other celebrations will be decidedly different this year with the uptick of COVID-19 cases and the resulting social and physical distancing. Shopping for Christmas gifts, which was once an enjoyable experience for many of us, is now a quick dash in and out with a mask snapped across our faces and a bottle of sanitizer in our pockets.

Sitting in Santa’s lap has been deemed risky and even the joyful singing carolers spreading good cheer and holiday music are struggling to find harmony while standing six feet apart. On top of all that, many of us are actively engaged in surviving cancer or being a caregiver for someone who has it in one of its myriad forms.

Perhaps there has never been a time in our lives when being together with loved ones or sharing a cup of eggnog with neighbors was more important—or more challenging. But with a little creativity and imagination, I believe we can stomp out the holiday blues and find the joy of the season once again.

As I write these words I have Alexa playing every Bing Crosby holiday tune ever written in the background. On my desk is a small plate of cookies shaped like stars and trees and candy canes, all with pinkish frosting and dotted with red and green sprinkles. Here in the house we have no fireplace but the Christmas stockings are hung on my office wall; four of them embroidered with the names of me, my wife and our two cats.I’m trying hard to encourage the spirit of Christmas to find its way into my heart.

Yet at the same time, I’m faintly aware of the slight discomfort in the mastectomy scar zipped across my chest where my left breast once resided. I’m still a guy with breast cancer after all, but this year I’ve decided to put my disease at the bottom of my Christmas wish list.

I want to be more like Richard III in the Shakespeare play who believed in the better days ahead. “Now is the winter of our discontent”, is the first line in the play but it needs to be read together with the second line, “made glorious summer by this sun of York”. The “sun of York” wasn't a comment on Yorkshire weather but a clever referral of the “son of York”, Edward IV. He was destined to become King and change a dreary winter into something hopeful.

With that story in mind, I’ve put together a short list of eight positive suggestions that may help cancer survivors to warm our winter and alleviate some of the chill from this pandemic that has gripped the world.

1. Play Some Music! 

Lots of music. It doesn’t have to be holiday tunes, but another blast of Burl Ives singing “Holly Jolly Christmas” is bound to lift your spirits and subdue any Grinch who might try to darken your day.

2. Cookies!

It’s not so much the eating but the making and baking that brings out the best of the holidays. There’s nothing like the smell of snickerdoodles toasting in the oven. If sugar is off your diet, make a batch for a neighbor.

3. Donate.

It’s a great time to have one of the charitable organizations pick up that winter coat you never wear or the household items that clutter your counters. Many of them will even pick it up for you at the curb.

5.Zoom!

If you set up your computer or cell phone with the Zoom app you can talk and see your loved ones or old friends by way of the Internet. No mask required.

6. Holiday Cards!

Write a few. It can be a bit of a chore if we try to send a card to every human being in our address books, but penning positive thoughts and good wishes to a few special folks can’t help but remind us to be grateful for our many blessings.

7. Adopt a pet!

If you’ve ever considered getting a puppy or kitten or even a goldfish to add some sparkle to your day, now’s a great time. Personally I can tell you that my life is much richer with two cats in the house. And now I have someone to hang out holiday stockings for.

8. Volunteer to write for Santa!

There are a number of organizations who offer letters from Santa to kids around the world. But Mr. Clause is pretty busy these days so you too can be an author for the masses.

One joyful thought or action is the perfect gift to give ourselves and others for the holidays.And we can’t contain positivity.Once it’s unleashed, no matter how modest it may appear, it expands and embraces anyone who stands in its path; or as Mr. Shakespeare once said:“How far that little candle throws his beams!”