Sally Blair and her husband, Bo, enjoy the sights and sounds of the holiday season. But how the retired schoolteachers, married 53 years, celebrate the season has changed since Sally was diagnosed with cancer in 2010.

“When cancer hit—that was just so much,” Sally says. “There was so much that had to go on. And some things had to change.”

Coping with limitations from cancer treatment

Ashley Morelli, a registered nurse at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute’s clinic in Corvallis, says it’s common for patients undergoing cancer treatment to be frustrated by their physical limitations.

“Be patient with your body. You shouldn’t expect too much of yourself, and you deserve the right to rest as much as you need to,” Ashley says.

She offers these tips for those experiencing medical challenges during the holidays:

  • Establish realistic goals and expectations. Don’t expect that everything will be perfect.
  • It’s OK to say “No.” Don’t feel obligated to be involved in all the festivities that come your way. Limit yourself to what you can manage and enjoy.
  • Spend time with caring, nurturing, supportive people.
  • Take time to rest. But also know that regular exercise, even a short walk around the block, can help relieve stress and tension and help to improve mood.
  • Talk to your health care team about upcoming special events. You may find that your medical providers can be flexible about appointments in order to accommodate travel or other needs.
  • Enjoy special moments. Try to focus on new holiday traditions, rather than the things that have changed because of your current condition.

“You can even pass off the recipes you normally cook to others to prepare. They may not turn out the same, but they can do it, and your family will feel better knowing that they’ve done something to help you,” Ashley says.

Another idea to lighten the work of preparing the holiday meal is to have someone else host or have a potluck and ask your guests to bring a dish to share. Being willing to accept help when you’re used to doing so much is not always easy, but it’s important.

“It’s a family thing—they have cancer, too, whether it’s in their bodies or not. We’re all dealing with it in one way or another,” Sally says. “Do what you can and stay positive.”

Focus on what’s important

Fatigue and side effects from her cancer treatments have forced Sally to do less and accept help from her husband and grown daughters when she needs it. She’s learned to focus less on the little things and more on what matters most.

“Choose what’s important. And if you can’t do it all, then don’t try and do it. Do what you can and enjoy what’s there,” she says.