The holiday season is stressful for most people. There are meals to prepare, parties to attend, gifts to buy, and on top of it all bills to pay. Recuperating from treatments and surgeries due to illnesses like breast cancer can make the holidays even crazier. They can also make the holidays depressing. You’re trying to get better while life keeps going on all around you. It’s hard to handle. Especially when money is tight and you have limitations on what you can do.
I wanted to have my hysterectomy in August right after my mastectomy, but they didn’t have an opening until November. I didn’t want to have surgery around the holidays. I now know waiting three months was easier on my body. The worst part for me was being off work and home alone during the holiday season. Yes, it was nice not dealing with the mad rush of customers at the grocery store where I work or lifting the heavy frozen turkeys, but it was lonely.
My friends were working extra hours and busy planning get-togethers with their families. They had no time to visit with me. My emotions ran wild. I was put on a hormone blocker to prevent reoccurrence of cancer, and it put me into a deep depression. I felt like no one cared about me. I kept thinking maybe to my friends this surgery wasn’t as important as the mastectomy. Maybe they thought because they helped me with one surgery they had done enough. My mind came up with all kinds of reasons why my friends were staying away and this made my depression worse.
It didn’t help that my parents went out of town for the holidays. Before they left, they were busy preparing for their trip and didn’t have time to come over and spend the day with me while my husband was at work. They did have us over for dinner one night. It’s not that my parents forgot about me. They called me to check on me when they got to my brother’s in Tennessee. It just seemed like everyone’s lives were going on while mine was sitting still.
I was restricted on what I could do and I was in pain. I was in no shape cook my own meals, do housework, or do much of my regular activities. My disability check was barely enough to even buy groceries. Luckily we saved enough money from my last surgery to keep our bills paid, but we had to be careful on our spending during the week.
Sitting around worrying about whether or not people still cared, the abundance of housework that wasn’t being done, what we were going to do for Thanksgiving, and having money to make it through the week drove me nuts. In order to fight depression and to keep from being bored, I had to keep busy. I colored in my adult coloring books, a friend sent me a word search book, I started doing our Christmas cards, and I watched lots of shows and movies. My husband took me for rides. I even did some editing of my memoir.
I still got bored, so I started up a craft I hadn’t done in a while. I decided I would start woodburning again. I have many books with patterns and a supply of wood that has gone untouched for a couple years. Suddenly my days were busy. I had to trace patterns on the wood and I woodburned the details of a picture. I started making Christmas decorations and special gifts for friends, family, and my husband. This took up a lot of my days. It also is saving me money on gifts for Christmas.
I also used my coping techniques I learned while struggling with mental illness. I journal daily and I turn to my husband, family, and close friends for support. A text message from a friend or my parent’s voice over the phone gave me strength. I tried to point out the positives of going through this surgery like no more pap smears, I didn’t have to lift heavy turkeys, I didn’t have to put up with grumpy customers, and I could sit around the house in my pajamas all day.
If you’re recuperating during the holidays, try to keep yourself occupied. Don’t get upset with family and friends when they are busy with extra work hours and preparing for meals and parties. They still care and you’re still important. Find creative things you can do to make gifts or decorations. Remember coping techniques to help you with any sadness you feel. While you’re healing is a good time to think about what the holidays are really about and reach out in letters or phone calls to old friends or distant family members.
We spent Thanksgiving with my older sister and family. I already have several Christmas gifts made and other projects to do. We saved money on gifts. I’m feeling good and I return back to work on December tenth. I now stand proudly in the light of recovery from surgery.