christmas garland

Despite a global pandemic, everywhere you turn the sights and sounds of the holiday season assail you. Before the Halloween candy is sorted and the Thanksgiving left over are eaten, we are reminded of what some call “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or no holidays at all, there is an expectation that all is festive, merry and bright this time of year. In fact, this year we are being encouraged to start early, to “go big or go home” in an attempt to ward off the challenges of celebrating in isolation or curtailing our celebrations due to the pandemic.

lonelinessFor many, the holidays are challenging normally and for cancer patients, the expectations of a consistently happy mood may be unrealistic. If you are newly diagnosed, the realization of what treatment means is probably not yet fully absorbed. You are adjusting to the new normal, dealing with physical challenges, and perhaps recovering from surgery, or adapting to a new medication regime and the resultant side effects.

You may not feel up to those beloved family traditions that require physical and emotional effort. You could be surrounded by supportive family and friends that are anxious to cheer you up with their love and best wishes, or you may find yourself lacking the support you need most right now. Either way, you may feel like pulling the covers over your head and hiding. Since most of us will not be able to be with our loved ones in person, it feels especially challenging.

Instead of joy, you may be experiencing an overwhelming sense of sadness or loss. Life has changed for you and your loved ones. In addition to dealing with cancer, there may be other challenges or losses in your life that are adding to your blue mood.

These feelings are normal, and it is perfectly appropriate to configure your holidays the way that works best for you. This may mean lowering your expectations. Perhaps take the pressure off the holidays. You many want to find some new traditions that are less labor intensive and are more joy-filled for your current physical and mental situation.

What are some way you can ward off the Grinch (aka – the pandemic) and keep it from robbing you of holiday joy?

Consider these tips that have helped your fellow GISTers find some joy in past holiday seasons!

“Looking at holiday decorations, listening to holiday music, looking at the snow falling and eating a holiday cookie. The beautiful silence of a snowy wintertime and the knowledge that “all is calm.” -Wanda S.

“Faith. Choose to rejoice. You always have the agency to choose and knowing this gives you power & strength. Use it to grow your joy. Seek joy. Choose hope. Trust. We are greater than our disease even when it hampers our daily lives.” -Margaret T.

“After my GIST diagnosis in 2003, I became depressed, but I eventually recovered. Then when Christmas came, I had a strong case of the holiday blues, and couldn’t shake it. The next Christmas, however, I planned a trip away from home with my husband. That helped tremendously!” -Dina W.

“I found the best way to cope is to socialize with family and friends and stay positive.” – Jeff D. (Although it may mean doing this virtually, or in a safe, socially distant way!)

“Focus on serving somebody else. Maybe do some volunteer work or help a friend or family member in need. Sometimes seeing other people’s problems puts your own into perspective.” – Mary H

“Count your blessings. Try keeping a notebook naming each and every one.” –  Margaret C.

“Look for small things to brighten each day, like sunshine or warm feet.” –  Carolyn D.

“Live to your fullest on your good days and be compassionate to yourself on the rest.” –  Karen D.

And why not try some new traditions? Make it one that requires little preparation or effort.

1. Take a walk as the snow begins to fall.
2. Watch a favorite holiday movie.
3. Attend a concert online. This time of year many organizations have free concerts. Immersing yourself in music can provide a welcome retreat from your thoughts.
4. Don’t isolate. Take the time to talk to an old friend. Reach out to your LRG community on GIST Chat or Facebook.
5. Get plenty of rest. You may need more that your normal amount this time of year.
6. Exercise in a way that works for you. Exercising releases endorphins, feel-good chemicals that will help elevate your mood.
7. Bake a favorite family recipe and take it to a friend.
8. Take a night walk to enjoy the holiday lights.
9. Look at old photos of family and friends.
10. Find a favorite toy from your childhood and display it.
11. Tend to your spirit. Attend a religious service virtually, visit a sacred spot, commune with nature. Seek the larger meaning of life through reading or discussion with others. Try meditation or yoga.

Remember that the holidays pass quickly, If you can find one small thing to bring you some joy, you will have taken back the season from cancer.