Coping with Lymphoma During the Holidays
Time with friends and family, dinner parties, rushing through the store for last minute gifts and reflecting on the past year all represent activities characteristic of the holiday season. Whether you were recently diagnosed or are a long-term survivor, lymphoma can change these seemingly "normal" activities forever. The stress that sometimes surrounds the holiday season can put added pressure on people. The act of of trying to feel and display joy can be overwhelming.
When the Holidays Do Not Feel So Happy
Lymphoma equals change. Changes may occur in relationships, life perspective and physical ability. Regardless of whether we perceive change to be positive or negative, it still takes time and effort to integrate the "new normal" into our lives. If you were diagnosed shortly before the holiday season began, you may feel angry that this disease came into your life now. If you are a long-term survivor, you may be balancing a feeling of gratitude that you are able to celebrate the holidays with that looming fear of relapse or secondary cancers that many survivors say never really goes away.
If the added pressure of feeling happy is stressful for you, it might be an opportunity for you to reflect on what feels most chaotic, sad or disappointing, or angry to you about your lymphoma diagnosis. Your perception is more important to understand than the reality. That is to say that everyone’s experience is unique and your response to a diagnosis, recurrence or dealing with illness during the holidays is influenced by your own coping style and previous life experiences.
If you are feeling down or upset, you are not alone. Many people find participating in local opportunities, such as support groups to be helpful. Individual therapy from a qualified and licensed mental health professional may also help. LRF has numerous support programs and resources available. Additionally CancerCare offers on-line and over-the-phone resources to help you during the holidays and beyond.
Helping Your Loved One Through the Holidays
When someone you love has lymphoma, your life changes, too. Pause a moment and make sure you are taking care of yourself. It is important to gauge your emotions during the holiday season and ask yourself what affects you, either positively or negatively about their lymphoma diagnosis. Even if you are not able to change anything, acknowledging your emotions may begin to help you feel less burdened.
Specific ways to help include:
Our tendency as humans is to want to "make it all better." In the case of lymphoma, we do not possess the ability to cure the disease or wipe away the pain for our loved one. Instead of responding with overused comments of "it'll all be okay" or "at least it's not..." or "my Aunt Betty had that and she's fine now...", try responding with a question, such as "Wow, it sounds like you're having a tough time. What feels the toughest to you at the moment?" Asking questions allows the person to more freely share their emotions and it tells them you are comfortable listening to the reality of what they might be feeling, as opposed to what they feel they are supposed to say.
Remember that everyone's experience is unique and that while you cannot make everything all better, your presence and willingness to truly listen can help your loved one feel cared for and stimulate future discussions- a gift not everyone receives this time of year.
For more assistance please contact the LRF Helpline available Monday through Friday from 8:00am - 5:00pm Pacific Standard Time (PST). Call (310) 204-7040 or (800) 500-9976 or e-mail.