Christmas tree

Covid, Cancer and Christmas

A Year of Change

By Diane Evans-Wood

Last year I wrote a blog about how to get through Christmas whilst living with Ovarian Cancer (any cancer actually). Little did I know that Christmas 2020 would bring about a whole new challenge for women with Ovarian Cancer.

Covid-19

Worldwide, we have all been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. And as I write this, we seem to be going through a second wave of the virus. This is unfortunate but not unexpected. Measures to restrict the spread of the virus have largely involved isolating and distancing people. Thus,the lifting of restrictions has caused the virus to pick up pace again.

It’s a difficult issue to resolve to be honest because humans thrive on community but then so does Covid-19!

Humans are social beings, and the majority are chomping at the bit so to speak, to socialise and get back to normality again. In every country, there is pressure on governments to balance restrictions and freedoms in order to reduce the risk of the virus escalating out of control, and to protect health services.

Cancer Considerations

Currently worldwide, wherever Christmas is celebrated, the same discussions are taking place. How can we manage the risks associated with this time of celebration, without creating further harm? For many, the risks of mixing with their families and friends after a hellish year of social sacrifice, will be worth it. For others like me, who live with a life limiting illness, serious health condition or the elderly, it’s not as simple.

In many countries we have already isolated ourselves from social interactions since March. We did this to reduce our risk of contracting Covid-19 because of the potential for serious complications. For those of us who live in countries where Covid-19 is prevalent – is sharing an in-person Christmas worth the risk? It’s a heavy burden to carry I have to say. To throw caution to the wind at this point, may seem crazy, especially with a vaccine on the horizon. But there is a nagging voice in our heads that pipes up “what if it’s my last Christmas?” “What if this is my last time to see loved ones?” It’s like a CD track on repeat and the emotional turmoil it causes is huge – I can vouch for that.

So, what do we do? It’s impossible for me to give any advice to you because it depends on so many factors i.e., your mental health after a difficult year, physical health, disease progression and willingness to accept risk.

No one can predict the future. Death can come knocking on the door for anyone without us expecting it. Ovarian cancer, and other illnesses, can make you so much more aware of the importance of living in the moment. Seeing another Christmas is actually not a certainty for anyone.

If I had been told by my medical team that this was going to be my last Christmas, I would want to live it in the best possible way by seeing loved ones, and I know they want to see me. And as a retired Palliative Care Nurse Specialist, I know it’s a particularly important consideration for anyone in end-of-life care, because at this stage in life it feels deeply that it is the loved ones in our lives and not the material things that matter most.

Therein lies my personal dilemma. My cancer is stable for now but there are no guarantees. When you have a limited prognosis in a pandemic you have to wrangle with your conscience, your personal morals and the risks associated for yourself if you contracted Covid-19. I am well and truly sat on the fence. I don’t know which way to jump and I know there are millions out there feeling the same way. If only we could negotiate with Covid-19 so that it agrees to be dormant until after Christmas.

A Very Different Christmas

If we do decide to share an in-person Christmas with loved ones, it will be very different to previous celebrations. We will rely on loved ones to take every precaution to reduce their own personal risk of contracting Covid-19, to protect us. A difficult task when people have to work, have children at school and have other family to visit. We may need to keep our distance indoors with windows open for ventilation, but this is difficult in small houses, and for those who feel the cold more than others. We may need to limit numbers of visitors which could cause resentment in families if some feel left out. We may decide to limit time spent together with shorter visits – especially tough for those travelling long distances.

Additionally, in the UK we have already been advised by Government officials to avoid buffet food that is shared and touched by others. We have also been advised to avoid playing board games or any pursuit that involves handling game pieces, hand controls and the like. For many families this means forgoing long standing Christmas traditions.

With all these changes and challenges, our expectations of sharing an in-person Christmas may differ from its reality this year, and lead to disappointment despite having taken the risk.

Whatever You Decide

However, you decide to celebrate Christmas, the information and suggestions I made in my 2019 Blog are still relevant.

Keep everything as simple as you can and reduce the pressure on yourself.

I believe Christmas should be more about spending time with those you love than a carefully constructed celebration with masses of presents and luxurious food. The question is – sharing in-person or virtual. I’m sorry I cannot come up with the answers this time: I am in the same boat myself in that I just don’t know what to do!

Only You Know What is Best for You

Whatever you decide, it is your decision, and nobody should stand in judgment of you or make you feel guilty for deciding one way or the other. Having Ovarian Cancer or any other life limiting condition is already extremely difficult to live with because of the many uncertainties we face every single day. Whether you will become exposed to Covid-19 or contract the virus is yet another of those uncertainties, so all you can do is to weigh up the risks and decide yourself how you can make Christmas the best it can be for you.

My hope is that your loved ones will understand why you have made the decision you have, and to support you in whatever ways they can to ensure you remain protected.

A Merry Christmas

I am wishing you all the very best for the coming Christmas celebrations. I know how agonising it will have been for many of you in making decisions this year regarding how to celebrate.

To view my 2019 Christmas Blog please follow the link:

https://cureourovariancancer.org/uk/news/perspectives/2019/coping-with-cancer-at-christmas/

Author

Diane Evans-Wood – Diane is a retired Palliative Care Nurse Specialist living with advanced, recurrent Low-Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer