Friday, 12 December 2014

My Unfair Chemo-Christmas: Ten Resolutions

It's nearly Christmas.  That perfect time of year when we are surrounded by friends and family, goodwill to all and Christmas cheer.  The time of year when we spend glorious days walking through pristine snow with our loved ones having happy snowball fights, then go home to open delightfully packed presents and share a glass of mulled wine.  We've all seen the movies!

Of course, Christmas doesn't usually work out quite like that.  In fact, it can be a pretty stressful time of year when families bicker and fall out, we all eat too much and feel ill and wish we could go outside but it's too cold and rainy.  And yet that image of the perfect Christmas infects us all, and it's the time of year when we are most likely to feel the injustice of things that make our lives a lot less than perfect.

It's the time of year when we are most likely to say - it's not fair that I have cancer!

When I started my chemo back in August, it was all supposed to be over by Christmas.  Thanks to my dodgy white blood cells, I'll now be on chemo right into the New Year.  And as I'm on weekly Taxol, that means spending a good chunk of the holidays at the hospital.  We won't be able to go back to the UK to see family because I have to be here for treatments.  Reluctantly we have also decided to un-invite our guests over New Year because I fear I'm just going to be too exhausted to cope with six extra kids staying in the house for several days.

It's not fair!

I'm not the only one to find the pressures of Christmas intensifying my misery.  Half of those in a poll done by the Samaritans said they feel low in December, with most of those finding their worries were most troubling during the festive period.  Over a third felt lonely.  A third felt anxious due to relationship and financial difficulties.  Add to that a good dose of feeling chemo-rotten, probably some extra stress on relationships due to illness and maybe some cancer-related financial difficulties's hardly surprising that a chemo-Christmas has the potential to be a difficult time of year.

But even if it's not going to be quite the festive season that I'd hoped for this year, I'm still determined that it's going to be a good one.  So here are ten festive resolutions to help  me make the best of things.

1.       To forgive myself my mood swings.  We don't have to be ho-ho-ho all the time: it's okay to be angry, fearful or just fed up with it all sometimes.  On the other hand, it's worth keeping it in perspective too.  There are plenty of people out there that I wouldn't swap with.

2.       To be realistic about what I can do over the festive season.  No matter how well the chemo is going, I still get tired easily....and achy and sore and a bit miserable on some days.  But the good thing about chemo is that it seems to be the same sequence of symptoms every time around so you can at least plan to do things on days you know you are likely to feel well, and decline invitations on the not-so-hot days.  When my-laws are here, I have resolved to practice my delegation skills and be quite up front about scheduling in rest times.  The day after Christmas is likely to be my most Taxol-achy day, so we're planning a spa day.  Here's the plan - the in-laws can entertain the kids in the activity pools while I'm going to soak my achy bones in the hot tubs.

3.       To be spontaneous when I feel well.   It's not easy to book Christmas activates in advance when you don't know how bad it's going to get further down the line.  All those cumulative side effects, how bad will it get?   We spent ages wondering whether to send out early invitations to our usual mince pies and mulled wine afternoon because I didn't want to commit to anything until I had a better idea how I was going to feel - would I have a dangerously low white blood cell count again?  Then, just a few days before the date we'd chosen, my blood tests came back with good levels and I was feeling pretty upbeat.  But surely it was too late to invite people over when everyone was busy with the pre-Christmas rush?  We sent out invites anyway and had a last minute, lovely afternoon - lots of people came, perhaps making a special effort because they knew it was a big deal this year. 

4.       To opt out if I feel rubbish.  I'm not going to beat myself up about opting out of social stuff at the last minute or not sending as many presents and cards this year.  I'm going to make it as easy as possible too - no staggering around crowded shopping malls for me this year, it's all on-line shopping. 

5.       To keep to my healthy regime.  Christmas often seems to centre on eating unhealthy food and drinking too much and there's no harm in a little indulgence.  But I'm going to stick to my alcohol ban as I figure my body has enough to deal with at the moment.  I won't be getting tipsy this Christmas - and that's a great opportunity to laugh at my drunk friends!  I'm going to do my best not just to vegetate in front of the TV either and to get outside for some exercise (wish me luck with this one).

6.       To plan a chemo-menu.  Stodgy Christmas pudding might not appeal to my delicate chemo-tummy and there are days when the idea of cooking a roast makes me want to throw up.  So I'm going to delegate the cooking and make sure we've got some food in the house that appeals to me even if it's not exactly seasonal. 

7.       To avoid getting sick.  I'm doing my best to avoid catching the winter coughs and colds that are doing the rounds while my white blood cell count is low: my family are endlessly using hand sanitizer and my friends have been warned not to greet me with a kiss.  No mistletoe in our house this year!

8.       To appreciate my caregivers, especially my husband.  Christmas is a great time to say thank you.

9.       To manage the kids' expectations.  I've done my best to make sure that Christmas is the same as it usually is...but they have to understand that I might not have the energy for everything this year.  So that means some delegation again:  handing over to my parents-in-law when I have to be in hospital, having some fun activities planned for them to do alone when I need to have a rest. 

10.   To celebrate! For those of us with early stage breast cancer, we can have every hope that next Christmas, this will all be behind us.  We'll have our hair back and (hopefully) our energy too.  So I'm going to be taking lots of photos to mark this unique Christmas and next year I will look back at them and know that I am blessed to have come through it all...even when the family bickers and it rains outside.

I hope my resolutions will be enough to keep me calm and serene through the exhaustion of Christmas.  Or at least not screech at the kids or lose my temper with the mother-in-law.  Will they do the job?  I'll let you know in January.

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