A caregiver called me recently to ask about the holidays, struggling with how to balance her partner’s needs with the family’s plans for the holidays. The patient is in treatment for ovarian cancer and very vulnerable to infection, exhaustion and stress. Wisely, her caregiver knew that this might be the year to reevaluate family plans, which in her case requires driving several hours in rural country in potentially bad weather. Under ordinary circumstances, the visit would be exhausting; in the middle of chemotherapy, a potential tragedy.
Look--I’m all for holiday family gatherings, creating memories and celebrating in big ways. However, holidays are stressful anyway, with family dynamics laid bare and expectations that cover the gamut. And this year, money is tight, so everyone is adjusting their gifting, hosting and travel plans. Even under the best of circumstances, it’s intense.
If you’re caring for someone in chemotherapy, it’s critical that you consider the patient’s situation first. These tips may help you enjoy the holidays with health and happiness:
1. Ask yourself, “Will this help her (the patient) or could it potentially hurt her?” This basic question will help sort holiday demands into realistic columns.
2. Ask family and friends for their support and cooperation this year because your primary concern is her health. Hopefully, they’ll understand but if they can’t, don’t let that sway your decisions.
3. Know how to access medical care anytime, anywhere. In treatment, problems can get out of control quickly, so don’t put her in a situation where she can’t get help.
4. Be sensible about visiting and visitors. Germs can be deadly to someone with a suppressed immune system, so try “air kisses." Remind visitors to leave sick guests at home.
5. Be creative about ways to participate without exposing the patient to harm. Skype a virtual dinner or send a wine opener with an I.O.U. for a “Holiday Do-Over” in the spring . Blog your day or have a Facebook gathering online.
Finally, don’t forget to care for the caregiver. A sick caregiver is not useful to the patient, so follow the basics of wellness: quality sleep, nutritious meals and managed stress.
The holidays should be a time of love and sharing, of honoring traditions and remembering our blessings. For many, it is a recommitment of faith and observance of our beliefs. It is a time of giving from our hearts and our spirits.
If you know someone who is in cancer treatment this holiday season, give them the gifts of support and love. Give them encouragement to continue their healing journey. Give them hope. And most of all, appreciate that their life is fragile right now and – whether or not you understand- give them the freedom to be where they need to be right now.