Major Events and Celebrations

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work, Emeritus

AUGUST 22, 2018

Achieving Milestones that Are Good Enough

Holidays and other important days or events have even greater significance in the lives of those with cancer than they do for others without health worries. Most of us identify future graduations, weddings, birthdays or major holidays as goals. Once the moment has passed, we pick another and keep looking forward.

These events can be both momentous and challenging. While sitting at a family-filled holiday table, we may be thinking: Could this be my last Thanksgiving? In the days leading up to the event, we may obsess about creating perfection and the kind of Norman Rockwell holiday that only exists in our dreams. We are accustomed to the internal pressure of staying in and enjoying the moment, but that pressure can be greatly amplified on special occasions. If we are not careful, rather than being wonderful or even good enough, the day may be stressful and poignant.

There are some strategies that can enhance the pleasure and reduce the stress.

1. When thinking of a future event as a goal, expand the mental picture. For example, if you are envisioning your son's high school graduation, think about where you will be sitting and who will be next to you. Is the sun shining? What are you wearing? Fill in all the details. When the day comes, take a photograph, frame it and keep it right on your desk or another central place that you see daily. It will remind you that dreams can come true and will encourage you to pick the next one.

2. Be realistic and start small. If your daughter is five, set your first goal as her elementary school, not her college, graduation. We are counting on time to make a lifetime of memories.

3. Don't overlook general goals. Rather than an August birthday, you can look forward to summer and its pleasures in a broad way.

4. Remind yourself that the anticipation of an event is both part of the pleasure and conversely, perhaps, can be more stressful than the day itself.

5. Consider sharing your feelings with someone in advance. She can then be an ally if you need a break or help containing your worries.

6. Be prepared for the event itself to be bittersweet. You may not be able to completely eliminate the bitter part, but you can focus on the sweetness.

7. Lower your expectations. This does not have to be the best Christmas ever; it just has to be good enough.

8. Remind yourself that, just as you are present now, you are likely to be present at next year's Seder or Easter table.

9. Reduce your own workload or obligations regarding the day. Ask for help. Being exhausted before you even get out of bed that morning is a recipe for disappointment.

10. All of your feelings are legitimate. Anticipate tears and joy and experience them all.

11. Don't forget to take those pictures! My long-term goal was being at my younger daughter's wedding. The picture of the two of us, holding hands, as I started to walk her down the aisle is one of my most precious possessions.

How have you thought about and managed holidays and important events? Go to the BIDMC Cancer Community and share your experiences with us.