Don't Let Cancer H.A.L.T. Your Holiday

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By Lynn Waldmann, L.C.S.W., and Carmella Wygant, L.C.S.W., Department of Social Work

H. A. L. T.
Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. Now, there's a combination for combustion! The holiday season can sometimes be an especially hard time for people with cancer and these four holiday Scrooges can make it even more stressful. So, to avoid that disturbing concoction, here are some simple suggestions:


  • Try to keep a daily goal of sitting down for three healthful meals. What is a healthful meal? Non-processed foods, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and protein.
  • This month can have us out of the house running more errands than normal. Carry a snack if you will be out for more than three hours. Fruit or a can of V8 is an easy and healthful option.
  • Remember to take time to taste the food. Make eating a pleasurable moment no matter what it is you're eating. Cook, if you like to cook, or ask others to cook and make suggestions for the menu.
Tips on healthful eating from the American Cancer Society

  • Lower your expectations of those around you, realizing that we are all human and have our limitations. It's amazing how quickly the joy factor will rise.
  • Make the choice to enjoy your holidays and encourage your friends and family to enjoy them with you. Your loved ones know your cancer is there. They are thinking about it just like you. The secret is to make the choice to enjoy the season in spite of the cancer.
  • Share all of the feelings, even the tough ones. Tears, laughter and touch can be powerful gifts during the season. And remember, when tears come, they do stop.
  • Celebrate the joy of the holidays. Cancer changes things in everyone's life. If necessary, create new traditions. And remember to put loved ones first.
Anger management techniques from Livestrong

  • Friends and family often want to help but so seldom know how. Use your voice and ask specific people for specific ways they can help.
  • Remember to line up AT LEAST three or four people as your holiday buddies. People who you enjoy that can be your "go-to" people when you're feeling isolated. While their schedules are most likely busier this time of the year, if you know there are several people on your buddy list, you're not likely to be disappointed if someone cannot be in touch. In addition, you can enjoy reconnecting with others when making these "outreach" calls.
  • Help someone else during the holidays. Some easy, low-stress ways to do this are: Send a card. Tell someone that you love them. Thank friends for the good times. Tell a joke. Sing a song.
Information on getting more support while in cancer treatment

  • Rest up and sit down WHENEVER you can. With cancer, energy conservation takes on a whole new meaning.
  • When out running errands, let friends and family drop you off at the door. Skip the busy stores and shop online or ask others to shop for you. Sometimes the process of making homemade gifts can be a stress reliever in itself. Or instead of gift giving, is there some other way to show someone you care during the holidays?
  • When out in stores shopping, use the motorized carts if they're available; it can benefit everyone with you.
  • Plan to leave the house after you have been resting. Also, stay on  schedule and return home when planned, even if you're having a wonderful time. Just the excitement of the day and riding in the car can burn more calories than we realize. If you get too tired, it may deplete your energy source not just for the day, but the next few days as well.
More tips on dealing with cancer treatment fatigue

Happy Holidays
Remember the best things in life are free, so keep it simple and enjoy your holidays. The Department of Social Work at MD Anderson is here to help patients, families and friends cope with their disease no matter what season it is. 

If you are feeling stressed out, talk to one of our licensed, master's-trained social work counselors. You can contact the Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195. 

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