‘Hold Space’ for A Patient With Cancer

The term “holding space” means being physically, mentally and emotionally present for someone. It means putting your focus on someone to support them as they feel their feelings. It’s hard to feel present and festive when you are being treated for cancer during the holiday season.

A few years ago this happened to me during the holiday season when I was being treated for my cancer. My family and I were planning our holiday events for that year and I wasn’t looking forward to the upcoming holiday season. I wasn’t feeling like myself because of the chemotherapy treatments I was receiving and I knew I wasn’t going to be the same person that year. I was feeling a lot of guilt as a husband and father because I knew I couldn’t be there for the ones I loved.

During that time, I was being faced with my own immortality with feelings of inadequacy. I found myself spending a lot of time alone because I didn’t like people seeing how weak I was at the time. Because of the chemotherapy treatments, my physical, mental and emotional limitations were very obvious to me at that time. I would break down easily, especially with my family and close friends around me. I honestly just wanted to hide and suffer through it alone. My family gave me space to do that but encouraged me to be present and in the moment.

I did my best to find that balance to keep things as normal as possible for my family while in treatment for my cancer. My wife and I had two teenage kids and I didn’t want them to look back as this being the holiday season when Dad was sick. The reality was that there was just nothing I could do to prevent that from happening and I just had to roll with it at the time. I wasn’t sure what the future held for us and I felt at times all I could do was put on a brave face. It’s a burden that a lot of cancer patients carry with them during the holiday season.

My wife and I decided to scale things back that holiday season and to make things enjoyable for all of us. I tried not to feel any guilt about that, but it definitely weighed on me. Ultimately it turned out to be one of our best holiday seasons our family had ever had because of the simplicity of it. Slowing things down a bit actually gave us time to enjoy the holiday and one another. It also gave me the time to feel those things I needed to feel about my disease and acknowledge it. As a friend of mine once said, “It’s ok not to be ok, just don’t live there very long.”

The next time you are with a family member battling cancer just realize it’s going to be a very different holiday for them. Find ways to meet them halfway especially if they pull away from family events. Just realize it’s not about you as they try to process the disease they are living with now. They are not trying to hurt you, but the holiday just hits them differently because of the disease.

My work life was impacted as much as my family life because of my cancer battle. It felt a bit different because I already found myself apologizing for the work events that I knew I could not attend. I would either have treatment that week or just felt too sick at the time to attend the event. I had already been feeling the burden of not being up to par with my overall work performance.

One day one of my coworkers pulled me aside and told me to stop apologizing for my cancer. She let me know that I had done nothing wrong and I had not created this situation that I was facing at the time. She no longer wanted to hear me apologizing for my cancer and she made sure I had time to recover. She held space for me as a friend and coworker.

I hate waking up in the morning to learn a friend of mine could possibly have progression with their cancer. This has happened a couple of times this week alone as I approach the holiday season. It can make the season incredibly hard for some survivors of cancer or those patients currently in treatment.

Just because you might be known as the ‘lucky one’ as a cancer survivor, it doesn’t mean you don’t feel like a ticking time bomb waiting for it to return. Sometimes there is nothing you can do but gut through those feelings and wait for cancer to again rear its ugly head.

I have my own set of follow up scans next month. I generally expect the worst and hope for the best. It’s how I have handled these times the last five years. All you can do is hold your breath and breathe just like it’s done during the CT exam.

My own survivor’s guilt hits especially hard for me this time of the year as I prepare for those follow up CT scans in January. I know I have friends around me that understand what that feels like and it makes the situation a bit easier than it did a few years ago when I was first diagnosed. They ‘hold space’ for me and I try to do the same for them.

If you know a cancer survivor or patient struggling around you today just ‘hold space’ for them. Just allow them to feel their feelings and encourage them the best you can in that moment. It’s going to be a long season for many of them and it’s the best gift you can give them this holiday season.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.

CML Alliance
Enable registration in settings - general
Compare items
  • Total (0)
Shopping cart