Holiday Conversations

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 11.53.55 AMFor many people, the holidays mean spending time with extended family and friends whom they might not see through the rest of the year. These reunions can be not only a source of joy, but also a source of anxiety. This can be especially true for someone dealing with breast cancer. The challenges of communicating about a diagnosis and treatment can be significant even with your closest friends and family; when you’re facing a visit from out-of-town cousins or a party with old family friends, those challenges can multiply.

Perhaps you don’t want to talk about your cancer at all, and you’re bracing yourself for an inevitable onslaught of questions. Or maybe you anticipate that no one will approach you because they don’t know how to talk about cancer. It could be you’re worried that conversations about your illness will be a holiday buzzkill. Whatever your feelings as you prepare for the holidays, it’s helpful to take time in advance to think about your needs and comfort level, and to consider strategies for handling communication with your loved ones.

If you don’t want to discuss your illness, consider sending an email to those you’ll be spending time with. Include whatever information you’re comfortable sharing, and explain that you’re telling them in advance because you’d rather enjoy your time with them in other conversations. Alternatively, someone close to you can stand in as your spokesperson during social situations to proactively provide information that worried friends and family members may seek.

If and when discussions about your diagnosis arise, know that it’s okay to set limits. Particularly if you know that certain topics are emotional triggers, plan responses to questions or comments that allow you to comfortably cut off conversation. If it bothers you when people talk about your cancer as a “battle” or remind you to “stay positive,” you’ll be emotionally (and practically) prepared to shift the discussion elsewhere. Even when someone is analyzing your treatment decisions, a simple statement such as this can help you quickly and easily shift gears: “Oh, I get tired of talking about cancer. Let’s talk about what you’ve been up to.”

If you’re comfortable discussing your illness but you anticipate that your loved ones won’t know how to broach the subject, be prepared to give them an opening. Offering reassurance that you’re doing okay and managing your treatment may be all that’s needed to alleviate tension. And if you’re the one to acknowledge the elephant in the room, you can easily control the tone and content of the conversation.

There’s no doubt that socializing can be emotionally exhausting when you have cancer. By giving yourself time and space to prepare for social situations, you’re more likely to have holiday get-togethers that are fun and rejuvenating, rather than stressful and draining.

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