Katherine M. Guthrie

QUESTION: How can we move forward together?

From Black Friday and holiday gift commercials to the beautifully decorated homes and storefronts, it’s hard to ignore that the holidays are now upon us. As a cancer survivor, you have additional reason to celebrate life. While this season is a time for us to renew our appreciation of life and its many blessings, the holidays can also be stressful.

This time of year always prompts us to think about the things that are most important to us. I’ve learned from cancer survivors that with a diagnosis often comes a reordering of priorities. That sentiment, coupled with the season, offers us a unique opportunity to pay attention to what really matters. In spite of the stress that can accompany the holidays, it’s important to spend time with the people we love, and make the season enjoyable for our children and grandchildren. Here are a few strategies you may find helpful.

Sometimes during this time of festivities and gatherings, survivors can feel isolated. People who love you may turn away, not because they don’t care, but because they don’t know how to react to your illness. If you are thinking of someone and want to reach out, but don’t know what to say or do, it’s OK to say, “I just don’t know what to say.” It’s important to make the call or send the card you’re considering. After all, you never know how much it might mean to the other person. Share your hope and communicate your blessings. Invite someone to your celebration who you know is alone for the holidays.

Simplify the holidays. Create a new holiday tradition that makes the most of your energy, such as planning potluck dinners or dining at a favorite restaurant. Send seasonal cards or letters after Christmas -- try New Year’s or Valentine’s Day. Reduce holiday gift exchanges and shop online or via catalogs when necessary. Buy holiday treats to reduce the amount of time you spend baking. Reach out for help when needed; for example, ask someone to decorate your home or trim the tree, then serve them hot chocolate and the pleasure of conversation in return.

Live in the moment. Realize your limitations and feel comfortable doing less. Don’t feel obligated to live up to others’ expectations. Express your love in more direct ways than gifts. There are no “shoulds.” Rededicate yourself to your spiritual growth. Slow down to celebrate the small things in life, including the blessings of each day.

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I hope these suggestions help you through your first, or maybe 10th, holiday season after being diagnosed. As we enter a new year, remember that Mission Hope Cancer Center provides free counseling for cancer patients and their families, support groups, educational lectures and services to our Central Coast community so we can continue to move forward.

From using our programs and services, to volunteering or making a donation, we thank you for your involvement. We know that when we join together, we truly don’t have to face cancer alone. Everyone at Mission Hope wishes you a blessed Thanksgiving, a joyous Christmas and a New Year that will bring hope.

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Have a question for Your Cancer Answers, a weekly column produced by Marian Regional Medical Center, Cancer Program? Email it to mariancancercare@dignityhealth.org.

Katherine Guthrie is senior regional director, cancer services at Mission Hope Cancer Center.

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