There’s no denying that Christmas can be a stressful time.
Remember the days before blood cancer, when you barely made it to Christmas Day without at least one melt down? Now throw in the fatigue, side effects of treatment, hospital appointments, treatment itself, anxiety about picking up bugs and fear of ending up in hospital, and you have what most people would see as an impossible task…
But it doesn’t have to be. I’ve put together some examples of things that have helped me during the festive period, in the hope that you might find them useful too. Some may seem simple – but when you’re suffering from chemo-brain, you can’t always see the obvious.
1. Start early
It’s never too early to start planning – particularly when you might need to allow for unexpected illnesses that you may now be more vulnerable to. Doing things gradually means less stress and more time to take care of yourself – even something as simple as checking your stocks of Sellotape and stamps can save time and energy later on.
2. Make a list
Each year, I write down everything you can think of that needs doing during December: from Christmas prep through to my daughter's school activities. Then break it down into categories – things like ‘to buy’, ‘bills to pay’, and ‘social engagements’. I also keep a notepad and pen nearby whenever I can, so I can jot down tasks as they pop into my head. I’ve found this strategy really helps me feel in-control and less worried about forgetting something important. Plus, crossing things off your list is very satisfying and marks these little achievements, making you feel more positive!
3. Get the kids involved
If you have children, get them in on the act and ask them to write their Christmas list as early as they can. I keep a copy on the fridge for my ten year old to add to as she sees or thinks of things. (Top tip: you can do this even if you’ve already sent the other copy to Santa; I tell my daughter that I’ll let him know of any changes). I also ask my daughter to write down the things she needs and any homework she has to do, and pop it on the front of the fridge – she has a habit of bombarding me with “I need this for…” or “My teacher has asked us to bring…” as soon as I walk through the door.
4. Order your food ahead…
Many supermarkets open their delivery slots for the Christmas week at the start of December, so it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. I do the bulk of my Christmas food shop online, as I don’t have the energy to do it in-store and lug the heavier stuff from the car. I still pick up bits here and there in the run-up to Christmas day, but this way the main stuff is sorted.
5. … and your medication, too
Many doctors allow you to order your prescriptions early at Christmas, while others offer online ordering. I always check when my medication is due to run out, and add these dates to my calendar so I don’t forget. It can also be a good idea to think about any non-prescription medications / creams you may need, and make sure you’re well-stocked. That said, I also check which pharmacies are open on the bank holidays – just for peace of mind.
6. Think simple but smart
Something as simple as using the calendar on your smartphone as a reminder service can make a big difference in the run up to Christmas. I use mine for recording appointments, school activities (there are lots at this time of year), tasks and deadlines.
7. Don’t stress about gift-buying
Giving money or gift vouchers is appropriate in this situation – friends and family will understand that you’re not in a position to go traipsing around the shops. They're also easier to post, which means you don’t have to run around delivering presents in the run up to Christmas Day – and you’re less likely to pick up colds that could mean a hospital stay over Christmas.
8. Prep your Christmas cards
Write, address and stamp them as early as you can. You don’t have to post them straight away, but if you're prepped them it means one less thing on your mind. I post some cards to local friends too, as this cuts out any delivery worries.
9. Batch cook
I’m starting now because I have more time and energy at the moment and this could change at any time. I’m cooking meals that my husband or I can pop in the microwave if I’m feeling off or exhausted. I also stock up on frozen veg, so I don’t have to stand for ages prepping it. I also buy some prepared bits for our Christmas Day lunch, so I don’t worry about whether or not I’ll have the energy on the day. If you still want to make things from scratch, see if any can be prepared in advance and frozen.
Don’t be afraid to take up offers of help – I know it’s not always easy but take a look at your list and see what you can leave to someone else. Think about getting your ironing done by a local service, for example, or perhaps paying a friend to do odd jobs. It’s these tasks that can be tiring and build up until you feel overwhelmed.
11. Seek professional support if you need it
In some areas, Macmillan offers practical help, so why not make contact with your local representative (or directly with the charity) to see if there’s anything they can do to help – it may mean one more thing that’s ticked off your list.
12. Don’t discount Christmas at home
If you’re normally the one who visits your relatives on the day, consider staying at home this year. Think about using Skype or FaceTime instead, as a substitute. You can chat for however long you wish and even play games via video call apps… it has been done!
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.