holiday spirit

Finding True Holiday Spirit In The Midst Of A Cancer Diagnosis

Hello, everyone. We have another guest post by Rev. Dale Wratchford, BCC, MHA, a chaplain with Pastoral & Spiritual Care here at Children’s.

As you embark on this holiday season with its unique set of challenges, try to remember the ultimate reason for the season. It won’t be easy, especially if your child was just diagnosed with cancer, is starting a new treatment, or battling an unexpected infection.

From a faith perspective, the holidays aren’t about material gifts. They’re about spending time with the family and friends who matter most to you, and giving thanks for the time you have together.

Keeping that focus is the biggest and best thing you can do to cope with your child’s cancer diagnosis. But keeping focus and holding steady can be easier said than done.

Here are some ways your family can find true holiday spirit in the midst of a cancer diagnosis.

Set Expectations Together.

Every parent of a child with cancer experiences a great deal of pressure to make the holidays special and keep family traditions alive.

Sit down together as a whole family early on this season. Talk about how things aren’t going as any of you expected. But remind each other that it doesn’t mean you don’t love each other deeply and want to share special, memorable time together.

Setting these expectations early on is key, especially if your child is homebound or in the hospital. It will feel challenging, but you have to talk rather than ignore what’s happening.

Ask Questions.

holiday spirit

The holidays are a time of reflection, and it’s only natural to ask yourself how you ended up in this situation. It’s also completely normal to ask these questions at any time of year, and I hope you allow yourself the space to do so.

Allowing these feelings to wash in and giving yourself space to grieve or feel uncomfortable feelings is huge. Find somebody in your life who you can share those feelings with, and who won’t immediately try to fix everything or make it better.

You deserve to have your feelings respected and heard. For many people, it will be challenging not to try to fix things for you, especially during the holidays when people feel more inclined to help one another and provide.

Accept the help, but shield yourself from folks who tell you that you have to do something one way. They may urge you to keep up your traditional family holiday dinner or decorate the way you always have.

But this year isn’t the same as past years—and that’s okay.

This does not mean you should push away people in your life who care and are concerned about you and your family. Just be upfront with them about your own expectations. If you want a sympathetic ear and not a problem solver, say so.

Bring The Season In.

This is a special year. It may not be what you wanted or hoped for, but accept where you are in this moment.

If you can’t go to your place of worship because your child is in the hospital or is immunocompromised, let your support system know. Tell your church or synagogue that your family’s presence there is important to you, but this year you simply can’t be there.

In place of going out to worship and connect with your community, try settling in with holiday movies that portray spiritual principles, such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Carol.”

Check your TV listings for live services, or contact your place of worship to see if they have internet broadcasts or podcasts.

Places of worship also put a high value on community. And these communities like to take care of people when they’re not fully able to care for themselves.

You may have to set boundaries based on your comfort zone, but doing so does not make you rude or unappreciative. If you’re suddenly flooded with roasted chickens and soups, for example, let people know that you have enough food.

Set your ground, and remind people that you’re still in the thick of working through this. But you want to connect.

Start New Traditions.

To the extent that you can, keep your children’s holiday experience as normal as possible. Of course, you may not be able to do certain things exactly the same way, but put forth an effort to normalize the situation for them.

holiday spirit

I’ve seen many families of cancer kids enhance and strengthen their holiday spirit in ways they never thought possible.

Challenging times, such as when your child is diagnosed with cancer, create an opportunity for new traditions that deepen that holiday spirit.

Don’t just follow the routine of chaos that goes with following crowds through a store. Use this as a chance to be together with your family, to experience the holidays in a deeper and more meaningful way. You may be surprised at the new traditions you plant together.

Anisa Hoie
I've been a nurse for nearly 32 years, mostly taking care of kids with cancer. My job is to give the kids and their families a personal touch while they go through treatment.

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