a man hiding in a christmas tree slowly emerges

Cancer at Christmas

The expectations are high on the part of everyone to have a good time. Friends are gathered, food is shared, and presents unwrapped. Then of course there are the songs: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas or my particular favourite Ella Fitzgerald singing The Christmas Song. And how can you fail with Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra? They all celebrate the holidays, but often with a sense of yearning.

A loving celebration or holiday hell?

When you’re young, fit and healthy as Andy Williams sang, "it’s the most wonderful time of the year." When you’re older and have been struck by prostate cancer it can be the most melancholy time of the year. Everyone appears to be having a good time and the pressure on you is to do the same. If not, it’s like you’re letting down the team.

The holidays, particularly New Year, are times of reflection when we look back over the past twelve months and if your last orbit around sun involved a cancer diagnosis then it’s natural to think: Why me? Why has this most unwelcome of guests come to stay. Cancer at Christmas can be tough; what can you do?

Take some practical steps

There are practical steps: do you have all the medication you require? If you have a medical problem over the holidays, who you can call? Perhaps you’ve had some important tests and are worried about the results. Badger your doctor to make sure you get them before the holiday season starts. Listen to your body, pace the partying and don’t get over tired. On a more positive note, perhaps you could celebrate the end of a particular course of treatment.

Managing family's cancer fears

Cancer is horrible for those who contract it and the same is true for family and friends who often struggle to know how to respond. You can almost see them thinking, is cancer something that’s OK to talk about? How many questions can I ask? I really care about this person, but cancer is so personal, so private that I’m really not sure I should pry.

Some find it hard because they’ve lost a friend or family member to cancer and can’t bear the thought of losing someone else. Let’s face it, the first thing people think when you tell them you have cancer is that pretty soon you won’t be around. Of course, that’s no longer true, but before I was diagnosed that would have been my thought. This can make conversation difficult.

What are you comfortable discussing?

Alternatively, there are some who can’t get enough information and want to know all about your treatments, the state of your health and your long-term prognosis. I fully understand that many people don’t want to hear all the intimate details, but if they do then I’m happy to share them. I can only speak for myself, but I would say there is no right response or to put it another way all responses are welcome.

But there is one exception, and that is clamming up and not talking about your illness to anyone. I recently heard of a prostate cancer sufferer who didn’t want anyone to know about his diagnosis and even tried to keep his wife in the dark. I can’t imagine anything worse, if my family and several close friends didn’t have my back, I couldn’t cope.

I started blogging about my illness right from the word go, so friends and family are kept in the picture and know how I’m doing. However, even though I am very open about my condition and ongoing treatments there are still aspects you don’t want to share with the wider public, so make sure you phone your close family and friends and let them know how you’re doing. They will be worried about you, but may not always want to ask.

Prep beforehand, relish the moment

But back to the holidays, talk to those who you will share time with and make it clear you might not be joining in all the celebrations, that perhaps you need a special diet this year and won’t be drinking alcohol. Share what you need and keep the communication channels open.

Try not to let worry cloud your Christmas, live in the moment and enjoy yourself, perhaps not in the way you did in your youth but hey you’ve still got to laugh when Eartha Kitt sings ‘Santa Baby’ which has to be the sauciest Christmas song of all.

Happy Holidays to everyone, ask for help if you need it, and enjoy this special time with those you love.

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