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Even without cancer, the holidays can bring stress, big obligations, and unmet expectations. But these feelings may intensify during the holidays if you or your loved ones are affected by cancer.

Those who are grieving life as they knew it during the holiday season can often feel lost, alone, and resentful of the colorful lights and baubles, joyful commercials, and the families who seem to be unscathed this holiday season.

The patient and family support navigators at the Colorectal Cancer Alliance are thinking about you during the holidays and have offered tips to help you move through the season ahead:

Acknowledge your feelings—even the uncomfortable ones

You don’t have to change how you feel. Give yourself permission to be sad, angry, hurt, and fearful. Oftentimes these feelings only increase when we choose to pretend that everything’s OK. Simple ways to honor your feelings include talking to someone you trust, writing down your thoughts and feelings, and practicing mindful meditation.

Prioritize what’s important to you

Many people have traditions and obligations during the holiday season that can feel insurmountably daunting in the face of cancer or grief. Now is the time to consider letting go of the obligations that do not give you joy. It’s only natural that you may be concerned about letting your loved ones down, but open and honest communication about your needs is important. Trust that they want to know how to make this season enjoyable for you. Decide what aspects of the holiday season are most important to you and choose to let go of those with less importance.

Be flexible and ask for help

Your goal is to not overextend yourself, and one way to do that is to make room for change. It can be very challenging to realize new limitations for yourself in the light of cancer (maybe you have new dietary restrictions, lack of energy, or a change in financial status). Whether you or your loved one has cancer, acknowledge your feelings about things not being the way they used to be and then consider taking control by owning your power to be flexible, creative, and accepting of help. You may be surprised at the ways you and your loved ones can transform old traditions into new ones that take your new life situation into account.

Find a healthy balance

Consistency and balance is key when wanting to reserve energy and feel your best. Stick to your normal exercise routine and avoid overindulging on foods you typically wouldn’t eat. Prioritize getting enough sleep at night and be sure to rest when needed.

A special note for those who are entering this holiday season without their loved ones by their side:

Many of us at the Alliance know the pain and sting of facing the holiday season after the death of a loved one. We know that the holidays can be an especially cruel time as it seems to highlight and intensify grief. We encourage you to connect with others who know this pain by joining our patient and family support group chat: My Pals Grief Chat. Or check out other resources including your local hospice organization, which will know how to point you in the right direction for bereavement support in your area.

The Alliance’s patient and family support navigators are standing by to talk with you about how to manage this holiday season, and they can be reached on the Helpline 9 am to 5 pm EST at 877-422-2030 or through the live chat on our website.

Author Danielle Peterson is one of our patient and family support navigators, as well as a licensed clinical social worker and certified oncology social worker. She can be reached at dpeterson@ccalliance.org.

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