Hope for the Holidays



Experts offer cancer patients and their family and friends ideas for coping - and celebrating - through the holidays

The holidays can be a festive and joyful time. But for those going through cancer treatment, it can be stressful and full of anxiety.

Treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can be time-consuming and exhausting. For many patients and their families, the thought of preparing for the season may be more than they can handle.

"Don't be afraid to ask for help," says Ursula Matulonis, MD, the director of the gynecologic oncology center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "For many patients, tasks such as shopping, baking, and decorating may be overwhelming or impossible. It's important to slow down, take time to rest, and not worry about getting everything done."

Matulonis stresses that communication is key in helping patients and their families to both get through the holidays and enjoy them. She reminds patients not to be afraid to speak up, and in some cases, just say no. Don't feel the need to make every moment memorable. Realize that this holiday season may need to be spent a little differently.

Cyndi MacKinlay, whose son Andrew is a leukemia survivor, agrees. "A cancer diagnosis hits a family hard and impacts every member. Life comes to a standstill and support is needed like never before."

When Andrew was five, he was in the hospital during the holidays. MacKinlay says the support of family and friends helped them beyond words.

"Our son was so concerned that Santa would not know where to find him."

Late Christmas Eve, when Andrew was discharged, family members made sure Santa wouldn't miss him. Years later, MacKinlay still gets emotional recalling that night.

"When we pulled into our driveway my son was so excited to read the sign placed across the front of our home: 'Hey Santa.Andrew's home!!!!' Just as Dr. Seuss's Grinch could not keep the holidays from the coming, neither could cancer."

As a founding member of Dana-Farber's Patient and Family Advisory Council, MacKinlay has spent a lot of time helping other families. She and Matulonis offer the following advice for patients, their families, and friends for finding hope this holiday.

Advice for cancer patients

Set realistic goals - keep it simple

  * Pick one or two things that you want to do. You shouldn't feel you have to do it all.

  * Don't worry about decorating the house, baking, or buying gifts for everyone you know.

* Know your limitations: The hardest thing to do may be realizing that you can't do it all.

Ask for help

  * Seek the help of family and friends and be receptive when help is offered.

  * Delegate responsibility to family and friends; making meals, shopping, decorating, etc.

Minimize the meal

* Start a new tradition, like a potluck, or going out to a restaurant.

  * Ask someone else to host the meal this year.

Get plenty of sleep

  * It's important, for your immune system, to keep up with your sleep and get plenty of rest.

Go cyber

  * Skip the long lines and mall madness. Shop for gifts online, or through catalogues.

* Send e-cards, or skip cards all together.

Take time for yourself

  * Rest, exercise, and reflect - it's all therapeutic.

  * Don't feel obligated to be festive.

  * Talk with a loved one, a friend or a professional counselor.

  * Remember it's OK to show emotion. Tears can bring a sense of relief.

Advice for family and friends

"Many parents, and I was one of them, just don't know what to ask for. So parents will say they are doing fine when they are far from it," explains MacKinlay. She offers these "tips from the trenches" for family and friends.

Deck the halls

  * Hang a wreath on the front door, string some up lights, offer to trim the tree.

Happier holidays

  * Help take some of the stress off the family by offering to take a Christmas card photo, write out cards, and shop for and wrap gifts.

Make meals

  * Get a group together and set up a calendar to rotate meal deliveries.

Be supportive

  * Be there to listen.

  * Take cues on how the family wants to deal with the holidays.

  * Understand that plans may change at the last minute based on how the patient feels.

Don't forget siblings

  * Think about the siblings of pediatric cancer patients, who can become the "undiagnosed patient." Shared activities like baking cookies together can help make their holiday brighter.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (www.dana-farber.org) is a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School and is among the leading cancer research and care centers in the United States. It is a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC), designated a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute.


Copyright 2008- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved


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