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Being diagnosed during the holidays

From guest blogger Jane Bissell

'How can I celebrate Christmas when I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer?'

Everyone is decorating their homes, shopping for gifts, buying up large for Christmas dinners and celebrations, and going to end-of-year parties …

You've been given a diagnosis of breast cancer.

The impact of a diagnosis changes our perspective during the festive season. Instead of wondering whether to serve roast potatoes, or potato salad with the ham, it’s “How can I celebrate when I have breast cancer?”, “Will I feel well enough to do anything at all with my family?”, and “What is going to happen to me?” … and all the while the cheery emails and cards arrive, the helter-skelter build up to The Big Day continues, and you’re left standing on the sideline.

First off, allow yourself to vent emotions. People do at Christmas time, and while yours may not be so jolly, giving yourself permission to express them – laugh, cry, get mad – reflects that old maxim ‘better out than in’. Keep the communication going with those close to you.

Acknowledge that this Christmas will be different. You may not be able to keep up some of the traditions, and that’s OK. Christmas is often the time when we feel we must please everyone, make sure our family and friends are cared for, fed well, and enjoy themselves.

Make a plan with family and friends, decide what you feel able to do, and what you aren’t up to doing. Having a plan takes some of the stress away, and also gives you a response when someone suggests what they feel you should be doing.   Remember it’s about you and it is your right to choose the best approach that nurtures your well being and healing and does not cause tension.

Accept invitations if you’d like to, and say that you may leave early, or you can choose not to attend, depending on how you feel. It's OK to say, 'No thank you'.   

Take time out each day to acknowledge what is happening. All too often over the holiday period there will be an invitation to “swallow it back” and “not rock the boat” for others. All very admirable, but a quiet half hour each day to focus in on your own experience will keep you grounded and sane.

Indulge, be kind to yourself, do something that you may not normally do. A diagnosis can make us feel angry: at ourselves, at God, our family and friends, the cat.  We can feel out of control. Self-nurture can help us take things back into our own hands and smooth the way a bit.

It is OK to say ‘no thank you’ if you’re not up to it, and ‘yes please’ to offers of help. Sometimes people don’t really know what is needed so tell them. Perhaps they can help with some pre-Christmas shopping, or help with the housework and meal preparation over the holidays.

If you need to talk to someone, Breast Cancer Support is here over the holidays. Their volunteers have ‘been there too’ at Christmas and can offer practical and emotional support. If you need some help and support, call them on 0800 273 222 any time from 8.30am to 5pm.

Jane Bissell is an Auckland writer  (author of Welcome to the Amazon Club) and regular blogger.