When the holidays hurt…

I must admit I hesitated a bit before writing this post today.  This is a time of joy and love and not a time of talking about sadness.  As you well know, we experience different emotions and these are not always happy ones. This is especially true for cancer survivors.  We may feel incredibly blessed beyond words.  Hey, we are still here to celebrate yet another holiday with those we love!  I never, ever take this for granted.  However, these emotions are often paired with more scary ones.  Will this be my last holiday with my family?  I know you are thinking, “well, none of us know that, Patsy.  We could all get run over by a truck!”  Well, I can honestly say I have never known a single person (thankfully) that this has happened to; however, I have known too many people who died of cancer.  ( I know I digress, but please don’t say this to your survivor friends).

It’s very easy for survivors to feel guilt during this time.  Why am I here with my family when my friends have passed?  I feel very, very sad for those that have lost their mothers and other family members due to cancer.  I struggle with how to express adequately my sorrow to them.

I’ve always thought loneliness is one of the hardest emotions to feel.  It’s so hard to get into the rhythm of the holiday festivities, church services, and so on, when you know you will be alone.  I had a survivor recently say she had many invitations to join others at family dinners when she was initially diagnosed with cancer; however, when her cancer recurred, no one reached out.  Folks, that is a powerful statement, isn’t it?

Not only do we feel the physical loneliness, but sometimes we can become what I call “socially lonely.”  When you have a terminal disease, life changes.  Some of us learn that talking about death, fear of the cancer returning, etc. helps us and we don’t avoid doing that.  That’s a good thing.  However, small talk doesn’t always come easy.  Small talk can typically include talking about many of the things that survivors have lost and will never regain.  Also, it is easy to get frustrated with well-meaning friends.  How can they complain about having to do Christmas shopping for the kids when you will never be able to have children?

We often find we cannot do as much as we want to for our families and friends. This is very different from the usual “just say no” stuff for those that do not have cancer.   I love the holiday season and always have.  I am so pleased to host the holiday dinner for the wonderful friends of my kids (ok, maybe they are adults), to have friends over to celebrate my husband’s December 25th birthday and to have my family coming from out-of-town. I will have minimal responsibility for these exciting happenings and no one will expects me to do too much.  I know it’s all about being together.  So, why do I constantly have to remind myself  that I really need to get back to cherishing my energy and saving it?

So, what can we do to get the most out of this wonderful season of joy?  First of all, we can let our families and friends know how very much we love them and how much their support has meant to us.  Let me be specific about this.  In particular, let’s tell those that have been ok with talking about the issues I described above what a gift that has been.  Next, we can do something that is very hard.  We can let others know what we need in this stressful time.  And, we can remind ourselves of that and use our energy for this purpose.  To be honest, I think being with us is what we can best give to those we love.  Remember, haven’t they also probably asked that hard question about how many more holidays we will have with them?

I am so thankful to all of you for the gift of knowing you and learning from you.  My heart is full of gratitude and joy of being allowed to share my thoughts about the emotions I experience with you.  What an honor that has been for me this year.  My wish for you is that your holiday is full of the emotions of joy, happiness, and much love…




  1. Shannon

    Thank you for posting Patsy. These are great reminders of honest feelings many have during the holidays. I will gladly share … and I personally am available to any friends who wish to connect and talk with a fellow survivor!


  2. Such a great post with many insights. I have also seen the attention and love dwindle after a cancer recurrence, and I’ve started a mission project to address that. I have always been amused or annoyed when someone tries to equate dying of cancer with getting hit by a truck or a bus. It’s not even a proper comparison. A proper comparison would be that you visit the doctor, and he tells you that you’re going to get hit by a truck and die. He can’t tell you the exact time. He can TRY to help you extend the time you have before the truck hits, but, no promises. So you tell your friends and family, and many of them shun you, and even though everyone knows they don’t stand a higher chance of getting hit by a truck by spending time with you, they certainly act like it. Every day, you brace yourself for the impact. You try to live each day with gratitude but … one day a bus is going to hit you and kill you. …. That’s what it’s like, to me.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. So glad someone (dear Shannon) shared them on Facebook.


    • Wow! So glad you shared this. I know others will identify so much. I sure did!


  3. Mary

    Very good words! It has been a rough year of losses hasn’t it? I’m sorry!



    • Yes it has, Mary. Way past time to find a cure.


  4. Your insights are always spot on Patsy. I love reading your posts I always am reminded about something I am feeling, felt or need to probably deal with. Thank you for sharing this it is perfect food for thought and action. 😀


  5. I love reading your blog, too!


  6. Dave Pschirer

    Beautiful post Patsy. Holiday depression (blues) affects a lot of people for a variety of reasons and it’s always hard to talk about such things. Thanks for giving voice to what many people feel. I personally will be lighting a candle in for the people I’ve lost so that they can be here “with me”. I also plan to make holiday calls to people I’ve not caught up with in a while – it’s always good to reconnect… Merry Christmas Patsy 🙂


    • Thanks, Dave. I, too, plan to light candles. Great idea to make calls, too.


  7. Ruth

    What a great insight into the life of cancer survivors. I think of all my friends with cancer often and always. Prayers for each one of you that has been touched by the awful disease.


  8. This was a beautifully written post that is so spot on for the Christmas season. I am a breast cancer survivor who has lived through more than one recurrence and I agree with your friend about the loss of support I experienced as each cancer came along. I am also the daughter of a wonderful mother who fought 12 years against various cancers. Every Christmas, I miss her the most and wish she were with us. She never got to meet her 2 wonderful grandchildren, now in their teens.

    Merry Christmas to you and Happy New Year!


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