Living with cancer at Christmas: at home and in hospital
I was diagnosed with blood cancer in October 2015. Here are some of my thoughts about Christmas 2015 in hospital, and Christmas 2016 out of hospital.
Christmas in hospital - 2015
My first Christmas of treatment was spent in hospital. I spiked a temperature on November 29th and I didn't come home until January 18th. It was my first time in hospital since my diagnosis, so I was unsure of what to expect and because it wasn’t planned, I didn't know whether I would make it home for Christmas or not. The following are either titbits of advice I was given or things I learned for myself:
- Take your duvet and pillow in to the hospital. It made such a difference from those uncomfortable starched sheets. I had one of my best hospital sleeps during those December days with my comfy duvet.
- My sister brought me in a little Christmas tree that she would usually put on her desk. It had little lights and was so festive. Plus the nurses made a real effort by putting up lots of decorations too.
- I used Spotify to create a Christmas playlist on my phone and kept our hospital bay upbeat with some Christmas tunes.
- My family and I always did a ‘make your own’ advent calendar whereby you have a small wrapped gift every day of advent. My sister brought them in for me each day, which was a little treat every day and gave me something to interact with my friends about on social media, instead of just my illness.
- Even though my family didn’t expect gifts from me, I knew my health would be unpredictable over Christmas, so I did all my Christmas shopping online and had it all wrapped by the end of November. That was one thing I didn’t have to worry about the longer I was in hospital.
- I gave my Christmas card list to my partner and he sent all of our Christmas cards. Again, no one expected them and this year I’ve taken the pressure off even further by doing a charity donation in lieu of cards.
- I had a portable DVD player, tablet and phone for festive entertainment.
- The medical staff are really good at making you feel festive and if there’s anything they can do, they usually will help.
I spent Christmas Day in the ICU being fed through a tube, so I didn’t really know what was going on during those important days and I didn’t get moved back to a normal ward until New Year’s Eve.
My partner was able to stay with me in the hospital to see in the New Year and I think that’s when the advice I’d been given clicked with me that Christmas is just another day and you can celebrate it whenever you are able.
You need to be kind to yourself and accept that getting better is the most important thing and everything else can wait. I opened my pressies and had my Christmas dinner at the end of January and it was the best I’d ever tasted!
Christmas at home - 2016
The second Christmas after I was diagnosed (last year) I was still receiving treatment but this was spent at home and these are my top tips:
- Spend Christmas Day the way you want to. I know there is often pressure to get all the family together at a particular place and do things a certain way, but choose what is right for you. Me and my partner spent Christmas at our house, just the two of us and it was relaxed and perfect. We had family over in the evening and didn't stress about keeping everyone happy. Find what works for you and your family will understand.
- If like me you’re not allowed alcohol, find some nice alternatives. My mother-in-law bought me a delicious mulled punch with all the flavours of mulled wine and I got a couple of bottles of non-alcoholic rosé wine as gifts. There are also some lovely coffee syrups and mocktails to make it feel Christmassy.
- If you like to bake or cook at Christmas, you could save energy by doing the prep sitting down. I often took my mixing bowl or chopping board to the dining table and took my time.
- Wash, wash, wash your hands! I know this is a given all of the time but it’s so important when it’s cold and flu season and you’re interacting with more people.
- Make sure your family know you’re a no germ zone as well. It was crap not to see some of my family at Christmas but it’s more important that you’re able to see them for longer when you're better. My sis bought me a big box of surgical masks from Amazon, so that I did have a bit more freedom for seeing people and getting out and about without the fear of hidden germs.
- My partner and I arranged a night away in mid-December to get away from it all. We were only an hour away from home (and the hospital) but it was a luxury venue and we were able to switch off from everything for the night in lovely festive surroundings.
- Listen to your body, if you don’t feel up to something then don’t do it. And, if you have a temperature, you must act on it! Even if hospital is the last place you want to be when it’s the build-up to Christmas, the sooner you get there, the sooner they can have you out again!
We hope that you find these tips helpful over the festive season. Please note that these are personal opinions and this blog is not a substitute for medical advice.
The Bloodwise Support Line is open Monday to Friday 10-4 over the festive period (except bank holidays) on 0808 2080 888, or you can message us .The Samaritans are open throughout the Christmas period, you can call them on 116 123.