The Stresses of Holidays and Cancer

The holidays are so intertwined with the notion of stress that if you Google the term "holiday stress," you'll get 24,500,000 results.

Six years ago, I was ready to jump on the holiday stress sleigh and then I was diagnosed with cancer one week after Thanksgiving. I still remember that Christmas, as my wife and I awaited the thoracic surgery that was going to remove the tumor growing in my chest. Knowing that after surgery, chemo and radiation therapies were waiting in the wings, there was little holiday spirit in the air. There was, however, a strange peace.

Upon reflection, it occurred to us that as a result of challenges ahead of us, the usual holiday madness was not stressing us out. There were no concerns about parties to attend or not attend, no worries about finances to cover the costs of gifts, no fears of family functions becoming dysfunctional — none of the usual seasonal stressors.

One of the gifts that can come from a life-altering illness is the release of needless worries. Away from the mind wanderings of “what if,” there is a space where all is quiet, all is calm. Whether this inner peace comes from a meditative practice or simply being fully awake to the present moment, the silent mind becomes a whole mind and we no longer feel like we’re going to pieces.

Don’t get me wrong, the holidays still get hectic.

However, the stress does not feel the same. I find it helpful to see this time of year as the beginning of my survivorship. Whenever I feel my inner Grinch getting ready to make an appearance, I think back to where I was six years ago and the fact that my online shopping cart just crashed doesn't seem like such a catastrophe.

Realizing that not everyone has had a holiday epiphany and many more are facing the beginning of their cancer challenges, I wrote the following Stressmas carols as reminders of the true spirit of the season.

Jangled Nerves (sung to the tune of Jingle Bells)

Oh, jangled nerves, jangled nervesJangled all the dayOh how sad it is to spendOur holiday time this wayDashing through the mallsWith a cart that’s gone astrayBack to the bank we goCrying all the wayBells on registers ringMaking spirits sighOh, what bills the mailman bringsWhy is my interest rate so high?Oh, jangled nerves, jangled nervesJangled all the dayOh how sad it is to spendOur holiday time this wayA day or two agoI felt my chest grow tightAnd very soon I found myselfPacing through the nightI tried to get some sleepBut the fears they would not goI knew I’d fallen very deepI never felt so lowOh, jangled nerves, jangled nervesJangled all the dayOh how sad it is to spendOur holiday time this way

Let It Go (sung to the tune of Let It Snow)

Oh, the world outside if frightfulAnd everyone seems so spitefulBut since it’s no way to growI let it go, let it go, let it goThe stress it is not stoppin’And my heart it feels like poppin’But before I hit an all-time lowI let it go, let it go, let it goAnd when I finally see the lightNothing seems quite so badWhen I surrender to the fightI discover the peace that I hadNow the fears are slowly dyingAnd my hearts no longer cryingAll I ever needed to knowWas let it go, let it go, let it go