Cancer and the holidays

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

The first few months of living with cancer are weird. What seems especially unsettling is that life goes on normally around you, but YOU HAVE CANCER. Your life is suddenly different but everyone else is carrying on like they always do.

This sensation is even more intense during the holiday season. There are traditions and visitors and parties. Normal activities can seem out of place when your life is less normal than it has ever been.

A cancer diagnosis makes you wonder if this will be your last holiday celebration. You might look back on the whole of your life and reflect on its meaning and the legacy that you leave behind.

Over time, most of us with cancer realize the importance of the normal rhythms of life. It’s comforting to know that life does go on.

Life can be especially challenging for individuals with cancer who live alone. They may feel isolated during the holidays, sensing (inaccurately, of course) that everyone else is filled with holiday cheer. A cancer diagnosis is unlikely to boost anyone’s spirits.

But cancer makes us appreciate what most take for granted. The giggle of a young child, the smell of popcorn, the softness of flannel sheets.

And cancer lets many of us find community. Our support groups have an added poignancy this time of year. We may not say it in words, but we love those who understand what we’ve been through.

We will also remember those who are no longer with us. We toast their memories and keep them in our hearts.

We’ve learned that we can be realistic about the present and still maintain our hopefulness for the future.

We know that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.

Happy holidays to one and all.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.

Click here for all of Bob’s columns

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