CHAD LATTA, MA
Shrink, professor at Metro State University (Denver, Colorado), painter, BJJ black belt, USMC vet, stage III survivor, and frickin’ hilarious

Food can be a tricky subject under the best circumstances.

Add in the complications of cancer, the holidays, AND family—you now have a minefield that would make anyone want to crawl under the table and hide.

Food is much more than simply fuel for our physical bodies. Food is emotional. It’s social. It can have deep roots in family and cultural traditions. Humans have always gathered to share and build social bonds through eating. So, when something like colorectal cancer steps in and fundamentally changes our relationship with food, something that was once positive can become a real problem.

The holidays can put this issue front and center. Not only do we navigate what our individual systems can handle, but we have to deal with the awkwardness and problems that our new food restrictions can cause with family and friends. Being the one who can’t join in, or the person asking for specific accommodations is really difficult. The last thing we want to be is the one ruining everyone else’s fun.

So, what to do?

Look Within Yourself

First, look within yourself. You are responsible for one person: yourself. Let go of worrying about how other people might think or feel: That’s not your job. Taking care of our needs requires us to tell others what those needs are. Remember the part in the safety speech on the airplane that says, “If the oxygen mask drops down, put on your own mask before assisting others.” The same thing applies here; your responsibility is first to yourself.

Let Others Help

Family and friends want to help. Cancer is also really difficult for caregivers because so frequently there isn’t anything they can do. So actually, they’re happy to know that making some accommodations can help you. Communicating your needs won’t only help you, but it allows those around you to know what to do. Otherwise, they will be guessing, and that’s a recipe for problems.

Connect

Clearly communicating your needs allows you to connect. Cancer can be so isolating. We’re trapped in our own terrible experience while those around us go on with normal life. How do we bridge the gap and reconnect? Communication. By honestly sharing, you will let others in and allow them to help. Don’t be afraid to say “No.” Imagine a friend of yours is struggling, but you don’t really know why or how to help. What if they honestly shared how they’re feeling and specifically what you could do to help? What a relief! Communication opens up connections.

Remember: It’s your job to take care of yourself and get your needs fulfilled. Keep in mind that even though it may be awkward, specifically letting people know what you need will actually help connect you and make the holiday gathering much more fun for everyone.

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Food. We can't live without it, but for many in the colorectal cancer community, it's hard to live with it. Yet as doctors, nutritionists, and research data all say: Diet and nutrition play an essential role in cancer prevention and treatment. Food is a topic we can't ignore.

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