Cancer at Christmas Podcast 🎧 - Listen and share your comments

KarinSiegerKarinSieger Posts: 82 Emotional Wellbeing Advisor

Cancer at Christmas: What is it going to be like for you this year? 

Cancer does not stop for any festive season. Whether you are the one with cancer, a relative or a friend.

Thank you if you shared your thoughts and questions for the Christmas edition of my podcast "Cancer and You".

🎧 You can now listen to it HERE 🎧

Do feel free to continue and share your thoughts and questions about Christmas and New Year in this thread.

Thank you and very best wishes for you.

Karin


Image via Pixabay

Memories of my 1st Christmas with cancer.

1. What is right, appropriate and normal?

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, many people around me started walking on eggshells. They did not know how much of their lives they should put on hold.

That was May. By December the chemotherapy had left me too ill to join my parents for Christmas, which was our tradition. I was too weak and frail to do very much at all. My parents were too old to visit me.

I did not mind. I was too unwell and tired to make a drama out of it.

For my parents the situation had turned into an issue of personal conflict, loyalty and social etiquette.

2. Needing permission

Initially, no one talked about it. Eventually, after some probing and encouragement, my parents and others opened up.

  • Would I be ok without them?
  • Was it ok to celebrate Christmas without me?
  • Would it be ok to visit others?
  • Can the old Christmas tree go in its usual place, with me not being there?

I was asked to give others permission to live the lives they have.

They were worried what it might be like for me, if they did. And would I think they did not care and that their lives had not been affected.

They were struggling with how to cope and live with the knowledge that their child might die before them. And that all their hopes and dreams about their life in old age had been shattered.

My parents needed my permission, blessing and support to hold on to some kind of structure, routine and normality. I knew that and my heart went out to them. Yes, life does go on - even when we don't know ho0w long we will go on for.

3. Social Etiquette

And then there is the issue of social etiquette – conforming with social expectations (of society, relatives, neighbours etc). Depending on where you live this can be strongly felt, or not. And I think that also played a part in the uncertainty and needing my blessing … “Karin said it would be ok… life goes on …” I did not blame or feel offended. I understood.

I did not want Christmas to be another thing to be affected and destroyed by my change in fortune.

The continuation of a family tradition was strangely reassuring, even with me not being there.

4. Life goes on. But what about my life? 

Clearly, December, Christmas, New Year, life (theirs and mine) would never be the same again.

The diagnosis, illness and treatment had been like a massive earthquake, destroying everything.

How was I going to rebuild? Was there time to rebuild? My life has been shortened. While the diagnosis was not terminal, predictions vary. So much uncertainty. And I wad rediagnosed in 2018.

5. The anger

With all that going on, and radiotherapy just starting, I felt overwhelmed by others’ struggle to do ‘the right thing’ by me, by themselves and by others. I understood it, but I was also saddened by it and angry.

Why don’t you get it? Life goes on. Why do you need me to tell you that?

I did not want to have to emotionally rescue others when I was struggling to rescue myself.

I was angry to be put into this situation, because it felt like others were weak, when I needed them to be strong and take charge. This might be unkind, but that is what I felt then. Cancer can make us very angry. I call it "cancer anger" and you can read more about it here.

So, I did give permission and honest encouragement to ‘celebrate’ as much or as little as they saw fit.

6. Communication

These were my circumstances. Yours will be different. But at the heart of it all is communication. Talking about difficulties and dilemmas is not easy. But not talking about it can make things a whole lot worse.

2 years later my father died and we were facing the first Christmas without him. I made sure we talked about it in advance: what it would be like; what arrangements would feel appropriate; how could we include him, even though he had died … It did help with the grieving and opened up a whole new path of communication about the more difficult things in life. If you are affected by loss, bereavement and grief then you might like my guide for coping here.

7. Life does carry on

Now, 7 years after that first Christmas with cancer communication is a lot easier. Fewer eggshells to walk on. All the hard and painful efforts of facing up to the stark possibilities of cancer have paid of.

I don’t have to carry my mother and others as much as at the beginning. No permission has to be given. We have worked out together what the best way of doing Christmas is this year.

At least we are at peace with that.

Karin Sieger
Psychotherapist | Writer | Podcaster | MA, BA (Hons) | Reg. MBACP (Accred)
Helping you create new possibilities!

Comments

  • MinksyMinksy Posts: 11

    I am 12 months post breast cancer. My original reconstruction did not match my breasts up in size so the consultant has said he can look to see what he can do with replacement implant. I thought i was doing well untill 6 weeks ago i got a cery bad cold and cough. The cough would not go, doctor sent me for xray, they said 3 weeks for results. Now allthe cancer thoughts have come back, has it spread, should i go and have reconstruction or will they fond anything. Getting anxiety attacks. I am on 10mg citalaplam to help. Can not talk to my husband he just does not understand.

  • KarinSiegerKarinSieger Posts: 82 Emotional Wellbeing Advisor

    Hi Minsky,

    Thanks for kicking us off and sharing your own current pre-Christmas cancer experience.

    Because cancer is so unpredictable (even after successful treatment), most (all?) of us, may always have to deal with anxiety that this uncertainty can bring: Has it come back? Has it spread? Putting up with long waits for tests and results. The 'what ifs' and memories of what we've already gone through.

    Trying to get some kind of order into thoughts and fears that can cause a sense of chaos and throw us off balance - that's not easy. It can cause mood swings and make us feel tired.

    Some people prefer to distract themselves and not think about it much, until they know for sure what they are dealing with. Others prefer to think about what if the cancer is back and how they would deal with that, in order to be better prepared. I think we all have to work out what is best for us.

    There will be many like you, who may not be able to settle into the Christmas season because of concerns about a possible recurrence or the original cancer having spread.

    I am sorry you have to go through this and feel others (eg your husband) do not understand. It's difficult unless you have gone through it. Some find it hard to cope with the idea and rather not hear our worries. It can be a lonely place.

    It's good that your doctor is on the ball, and tests have been done. Without it the worry might be worse. But, yes, this is not an easy time. And perhaps it's an idea to wait for the outcome of that before progressing with the reconstruction.

    Thanks again for writing in and sending you very best wishes.

    Karin

    Karin Sieger
    Psychotherapist | Writer | Podcaster | MA, BA (Hons) | Reg. MBACP (Accred)
    Helping you create new possibilities!
  • RobertARobertA Posts: 927 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @Minksy @KarinSieger

    Hi Minksy

    I was wondering if you have had the results of your xray. The waiting can be so stressful and I have not commented before because there is nothing I can add to Karin’s caring, thought provoking and insightful comments.

    I have though, been thinking about your husband’s reaction to your anxiety and it rings a bell with me. I am no expert but I believe that many men tend to bottle up when under stress and that women prefer to talk things through. It doesn't mean men don't care, it is just our way of coping and I think I am one of very few men who. post in this community.

    In my case, testosterone fuels my cancer and so my treatment has involved its removal from my body which has caused physical and mental changes similar to menopause. My wife says that I am now more caring and kinder than before but I am not convinced. In my mind, the change is simply that I am more openly emotional and happy to express my feelings rather than keeping them to myself as I used to do.

    If you have a MacMillan Cancer Support in your area, it might be good to pop in and see them and if possible, take your husband with you. They have been a fantastic support for me and for my wife too.

    Rob x

  • SunshinedaffSunshinedaff Posts: 1,086 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @KarinSieger

    Hi Karin,

    When I was diagnosed in 2015, it was the end of summer and once we had been told of the treatment plan we knew that during the Christmas season, I would be fully immersed in chemo treatment. So when my husband and I told my two teenage daughters the diagnosis the second conversation (the first being about what was going to happen to get rid of the cancer) was 'What are we going to do about Christmas?' My eldest daughter said she could make beans on toast, so at least that was lunch sorted! 😄. To be honest the shock of the diagnosis hung around for a long time even well into my treatment, and so any 'plans' made seemed quite detached.

    Christmas is a season I love, and I knew I didn't want cancer ruining it, but I was prepared to change things around if necessary. The biggest decision was to start Christmas early, so in November we started, my daughters' friend and mum came over and they did the tree while I looked on. Hot chocolate, mince pies etc at the ready. I am 'Santa's helper' and still managed to sort quite a lot out, thanks to online ordering, so no need to traipse around the shops etc, but it was so lovely to watch the girls having fun with the tree, usually my domain! lol!

    Being realistic about possible limitations due to side-effects or anything else is good to be mindful about. We made sure to tell people we may see that we needed to remain flexible about any arrangements in case I wasn't well enough. That took the pressure off needing to be places, which at Christmas time, can become intense causing stress in the healthiest of people, let alone those dealing with cancer.

    I know there are a lot of people here right in the middle of very similar situations I was in back then, wondering how on earth are they going to get through Christmas season.

    I think one of the main things to bear in mind is to go with the flow of where you feel comfortable. Anything that takes the pressure off you, what ever it is regarding, take that option. I spent a lot of time pre-Christmas wrapping gifts I'd ordered. I find that relaxing and enjoyable, especially with the TV on. I didn't do any baking at all that year, I love baking, but I knew I didn't have the capacity to stand in my kitchen for hours on end decorating. You know you best, and other people are not you, so don't be swayed by their well-intentioned but sometimes ill-advised ideas.

    I love one post I read last year of one of our members plan, it really made me smile..@phoenix15 wrote..in the Christmas Coping Tips ..."Cancer can take a hike for one day this Christmas! I'm putting on my best wig, my red high heeled shoes and a wide smile. Close family, laughter, sprouts and a drop of Bailey's is what my Doctor orders....". Wonderful! 😄

    Lou x

  • KarinSiegerKarinSieger Posts: 82 Emotional Wellbeing Advisor
    edited December 2019

    @Minksy

    Hello Minsky,

    I hope you have received your results and that, whatever they show, this can be addressed satisfactorily.

    Just to let you know that the Christmas edition of my podcast "Cancer and You" to which you have Kindly contributed has just gone live. You can listen to it here.

    With my very best wishes.

    Karin

    Karin Sieger
    Psychotherapist | Writer | Podcaster | MA, BA (Hons) | Reg. MBACP (Accred)
    Helping you create new possibilities!
  • KarinSiegerKarinSieger Posts: 82 Emotional Wellbeing Advisor

    @Sunshinedaff

    Hi Lou,

    What a smashing post and pieces of advice. Thank you so much. The Christmas edition of my podcast 'Cancer and You' has just gone live here. I would have loved to include your piece, but it is still here to inspire and help all.

    Very warmest for you.

    Karin

    Karin Sieger
    Psychotherapist | Writer | Podcaster | MA, BA (Hons) | Reg. MBACP (Accred)
    Helping you create new possibilities!
  • SunshinedaffSunshinedaff Posts: 1,086 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Hi Karin,

    Thank you! To be honest I wrote this ages ago and thought I'd posted it!! I found it this morning in my drafts! Lol!

    Lou x

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