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Ringing in the New Year When Cancer Is on Your Mind

wooden blocks with 2018 and 2019
Wendy Baer, MD - Blogs
By Wendy Baer, MDPsychiatric oncologistDecember 20, 2018

The end the year is often a time of both reflection and planning; thinking back on the year that has passed and making plans for the year ahead. For people dealing with cancer, reflections on the year that passed may be dampened by recall of the cancer experience, and any resolutions or plans may be tainted by worry about cancer spreading or treatment not working. Even people who are done with treatment may have emotional difficulty with the New Year’s time given expectations of returning to work after the holidays, or managing the anxiety of future scans and wondering if this will be the year that cancer comes back.

So how can you manage the difficult emotions that may come up over the New Year’s time?

Here are a couple of suggestions that may help:

Get grounded in today. Literally put your feet on the floor, take a long deep breath, and look at a calendar. Check the date, remind yourself you made it to today, cancer and all. Sometimes we fail to give ourselves credit for how much work managing the cancer experience can be, so just getting to today is an accomplishment. If you don’t have a calendar you like, be sure to get yourself a new one for 2019, something that suits you, whether it be cartoons, nature sketches, or photographs from around the world.

Get ahold of your expectations. Not all holidays have to be big blow outs, not all good times happen in crowds, and not all celebrations require loads of food or drink. Perhaps this is the year for a low key, but pleasing, celebration. Take the time to find a favorite album or playlist, and enjoy stretching out on the floor while you listen or even sing along. Grab a couple blankets and head outside to watch the sunset and the stars come out one evening. Call up an old friend and catch up, even a 10-minute conversation on the phone (not a text or post) may be just enough to brighten your day.

Make realistic resolutions. Given the fatigue that comes with cancer, as well as the financial and time pressures of cancer treatment, having overly ambitious resolutions (building an addition to the house, travel to Antarctica) will likely lead to disappointment. Instead, try to focus on life’s simple pleasures, things that are a part of everyday life that, when you pay close attention, actually bring a great deal of joy. A neighbor’s garden, birds on trees, warm coffee with an old friend, planting a flower bed for spring, a favorite song on the radio, a warm wool sweater, or a perfect cup of hot chocolate. Perhaps this New Year you can resolve to find more peace and pleasure in your life, even if you are dealing with cancer, by cultivating your appreciation for life’s simple pleasures.

Wishing you peace in the New Year!

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About the Author
Wendy Baer, MD

Wendy Baer, MD, is the medical director of psychiatric oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta. Dr. Baer helps patients and their families deal with the stress of receiving a cancer diagnosis and going through treatment. Her expertise in treating clinical depression and anxiety helps people manage emotions, behaviors and relationships during difficult times.

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