Illness at Christmas

    A serious medical illness can tamp down mood during the holidays.

    A University of Pennsylvania doctor says grappling with a serious physical illness can bring on feelings at odds with the holiday season.

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    Psychiatrist Ruth Steinman cares for patients at Philadelphia’s Abramson Cancer Center and says treatment rarely takes a hiatus for the holidays. Chemotherapy, and other invasive therapies, can tax the emotions as well as the body so Steinman urges patients to set realistic goals by being selective with holiday invitations and responsibilities.

    Steinman: If you can anticipate that this is not going to be perfect, that there are going to be limitations, that there may be sadness and a sense of vulnerability emotionally, at this time of year, then I think that it makes managing it, and coping, easier.

    Last December when the holidays hit, Philadelphia resident Doretha Burrell was just finishing a round of radiation to treat her breast cancer. Burrell says she managed her mood by deciding, in advance, to do less shopping and decorating.

    Burrell: Last year was a struggle for me, I just didn’t have the energy and that happy smiley face that I always projected. For the most part I sat around a lot, and just enjoyed talking and speaking with family members.

    Doctors warned Burrell that some of her cancer medications might affect her mood, and she says that knowledge helped her sidestep a deep depression. Steinman coaches her patients to eat and drink moderately, and exercise when they can.

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