By Ann Ogden Gaffney

The Holidays can be difficult when you’re going through cancer treatment. Radiation is practically a daily occurrence with only the weekends off. No matter how important family is to you, you’ll likely just have the day of the holiday to come together. If you’re on chemo, the timing of your infusion could mean that you’ll spend the holidays feeling ill while others are enjoying the feast and good cheer. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way and you shouldn’t hesitate to ask your oncology team if you have options.

When my brother and sister-in-law came from the UK to visit me one thanksgiving, I was still in treatment. I hadn’t been able to travel for ages and it was great to see them. I was going through radiation at the time, and they spent a huge chunk of their vacation in the waiting room during my treatments. I was very touched. But since not even radiation can interrupt the celebration of Thanksgiving, I got Turkey Day off and cooked a huge meal with friends. On Friday it was back to business as usual, being blasted with radiation.

Chemo protocols for many cancers mean that just before an infusion, your body has had enough respite for you to feel like your old self again and enjoy the prospect of a feast and all the trimmings with friends and family. If the timing of your chemo infusion means that you’ll be feeling ghastly and ill over the holiday, ask your oncologist if the kind of treatment you’re on (curative or non-curative) can be postponed a few days until after the holidays. Your oncologist will let you know in no uncertain terms if a delay will put you in jeopardy

The same goes for radiation – if you want to be with family but can’t because you have to go in for treatment too close to the holiday, ask if you can have higher make-up doses and skip treatment on a certain day. They can only say no. I found this was possible as I was nearing the end of my own treatment. I’d been in surgery, chemo or radiation since early March and was ready to be done with it. I wanted to finish symbolically on Christmas Eve, but my protocol ended four days afterward. I talked to my team. They doubled up my radiation doses during my last week of treatment to make it happen. It was the perfect gift.

Remember, you won’t be the only person to think of this, so don’t wait until the last moment. Ask your oncology team well in advance. Happy Holidays and good luck!

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