I didn’t survive cancer to die of stress

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By Kay Kerbyson

Yes, it’s that time of year again. It’s the holidays and ’tis the season to be stressed. Crowded malls, last minute shopping, endless lines, 200 cards to write ... what? You mean I’m the only one who does that? Bummer. No wonder I don’t get many back.

For the average person there’s enough stress. Add cancer or illness to the equation and this season can be the Everest of stressful occasions. Have you ever thought what survivors go through on big holidays like this? For one, most of us don’t have the energy to do the full Christmas thing. Go out in the freezing cold and put lights on my trees? Are you kidding me? I’d have to take a three-hour nap afterward. Bake cookies for the neighbors? Sorry neighbors, but the cookie barrel’s empty this year. It takes enough of my strength to drive to Smith’s and hunt for a turkey small enough so that we won’t be eating it for three months. So if you drive past and think, “Boy those miserable people with the dark house have no Christmas spirit,” it’s because my Christmas spirit is being reserved for the true spirit of Christmas, my family and friends.

Of course there’s stress there too. Sometimes we forget the big picture of Christmas, whether we’re religious or not. Instead of celebrating our family, our children, the highs of the year past, the new beginnings to come and showing those we love just how much we love them, some waste the opportunity. Are you worrying about the turkey popping at the same time the vegetables are done, or keeping the house tidy, or are you grumpy about all the home improvement jobs that are staring you in the face? If so, you would not be alone.

But as I’ve said so many times before, time is too precious to waste, especially during the holidays. For some, this may be the last Christmas they get to spend with their loved ones. For others, it may be the last Christmas in a while, when they feel healthy, or there may be many more healthy years to come. Everyone wants the latter, but are you going to gamble on it?

Whether we admit it or not, any holiday will bring dark thoughts into the mind of a cancer survivor, primarily the universal question: “Will I get to see the next one?” Of course, it’s an added layer of stress. But if those around you are happy and celebrating and concentrating on the big picture, then Everest becomes more like Parajito — far easier to climb and no oxygen required.

So, yes, Christmas can be a stressful time for us cancer survivors and caregivers too. But here’s the thing: I, like a lot of other people, believe that years of stress could be a major contributor to cancer. Recent studies are even starting to make it medically plausible. Stress causes inflammation, long-term inflammation distracts your immune system, mutant cells then go unchecked and proliferate. Ergo, stress causes cancer. That’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.

So for me, stress may have caused my cancer. I will never know, but I’m certainly not going to survive cancer to die of stress. So this Christmas, take a chill pill, get a massage, roast your chestnuts over an open fire. Whatever it takes, just make this Christmas the best one ever. And if you need a New Year’s resolution, you can’t do any better than this:

Live stronger. Love harder. Laugh louder.

And kiss under the mistletoe until the cows come home.

Happy Holidays and peace and blessings to every one of you.

Kay Kerbyson is Secretary of the Los Alamos Council on Cancer and President/Founder of Ovarian Cancer Together Inc. Support and resources for local residents touched by cancer can be found at www.losalamoscounciloncancer.org and www.ovariancancertogether.org.