Facing the new year with cancer

Getting ready to ring in a new year while undergoing cancer treatment can be very draining

Categories: For Potential Participants, [Cancer, Brain Cancer, Breast Cancer, Colorectal Cancer, Leukemia, Lung Cancer, Prostate Cancer]

Being diagnosed with cancer is a life altering event. For some patients the diagnosis comes out of the blue; for others, the event is less of a surprise due to known genetic risk factors. While each cancer type is unique, there certainly are themes and experiences most patients undergoing treatment can relate to. For example, feeling unwell during the merriest time of the year. The winter holiday season can be emotionally and physically exhausting for someone undergoing chemotherapy. Lack of appetite, lack of energy and lack of an immune system all make it difficult to partake in social or familial events.

For many cancer patients, additional stress of the holiday season kicks in once focus shifts to the coming year and the chatter around making new year’s resolutions. A resolution is defined as, ‘a firm decision to do, or not to do, something.’ For someone in active cancer treatment, it may be very difficult to think about what lies ahead and what changes to consider making when one isn’t in full control of life. Caregivers and loved ones may feel this uncertainty as well. Constant messages of hope and prosperity on the TV and social media can be isolating for patients and their families since it may seem like everyone else is optimistic about the future.

During the days leading up to December 31st discussion often settles around topics such as losing weight, spending less, and traveling more. A person in the throes of cancer treatment may be fatigued, nauseous and anxious. Feeling unwell makes it hard to feel or think about much more of anything else. It may be effective to tune out some of this positive messaging if it’s a negative distraction. A good first step is to ask yourself, what is so magical about January first? Every day is a good day to resolve to do something differently if it is for personal betterment. Any significant change takes time and that’s where endurance and commitment matters. Case in point: gyms are crowded in January, but less so in February. 

Secondly, don’t be afraid to re-calibrate one’s social media or entertainment programming a bit. Know what is triggering and take steps to avoid the feelings whether that be spending less time on social channels or being wise about when to consume media. Cancer is a complicated journey with many visits and care team interactions so give yourself time and space before looking at the latest posts shared to one’s network.

The pull of muscle memory via tradition can be strong during the holidays.  If the topic of resolutions is difficult to avoid, consider making one sweeping resolution. For some people that might be act of not making resolutions. For others that could be resolving to adapt one’s mindset to be more present, intentional or hopeful. This is the type of objective that, if achieved, helps other things fall into place more naturally. And a more positive mindset can help a patient better manage the stress of side effects of treatment not to mention life post-cancer.

The holidays are complicated times that can bring joy and sadness, and sometimes simultaneously. Cancer doesn’t make any of this easier. It can feel overwhelming to think about what lies ahead in a new year especially if one has just experienced something tough and unexpected. Focus on yourself and getting through the journey whether that is with the aid of resolutions or without.


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