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Cancer Caregiving Journey: Surviving the Holidays!

Barbara Baroff Kavanagh, MSW, LCSW

‘Tis the season for parties and presents, but not for everyone. No sooner do you get through Thanksgiving, and you are hearing Christmas songs. There is no recovery time between Holidays. Everywhere you turn there are things to buy online and in shops, elaborate decorations to put up and ads showing happy families sitting around their ‘picture-perfect’ dining room tables. It certainly doesn’t look like my home, and maybe not yours!

In the first year after hearing those terrible words: “You have cancer”, patients and caregivers will often try too hard to keep up their usual traditions and commitments. This can put a great deal of stress on both. The patients feel guilty because they can’t help, or they are depressed and not in a holiday mood. Friends and family often feel awkward…they don’t know what to do or feel uncomfortable for being happy. Whether it is the first year or, hopefully, several years, you will need to find your own sense of balance.  I have been blessed with 27 years of caregiving. I have learned so much from the many caregivers that I’ve met over the years, so here is a list of some of my favorite Tips for Surviving and Enjoying the Holidays:

  • Say “No” whenever you or your patient are invited to a holiday event that would be too stressful physically and/or emotionally to attend.
  • Say “Yes” when a friend or family member offers to do the Christmas dinner, extends help to you with your holiday shopping, or just gives you the day off from your usual responsibilities.
  • Division of labor is another way to reduce holiday stress! Share the holiday get together planning and give everyone an assignment of what to bring or do!
  • Don’t feel that you have to read that long Xmas letter from someone you haven’t seen in years and hardly remember.
  • Plan ahead so that you don’t get overwhelmed. You can make a reservation at a restaurant or go to a hotel for the Holidays…there is no ‘rule’ that you have to do what you have always done!
  • Do something that you and your loved one can enjoy together or with your family…maybe just staying home, eating ‘take out’, watching your favorite movie, playing games, or staying in your pajamas all day.
  • Remember to take care of your spiritual and physical self.
  • Cancer Caregivers and patients may find it very calming to focus on that aspect of the Holidays. Spiritual beliefs can bring renewed hope to those dealing with cancer.

Each of us responds differently to this new life. Cancer is there when we go to sleep at night and when we wake up in the morning. Our goal is to find balance and make our own rules.                                                                                                                               A wise friend once told me: ‘Just remember to breathe!’

Thank You AARP Colorado for inviting me to share my Cancer Caregivers Blog in 2019. I hope that all of you will stay in touch with me and our amazing caregivers from all over the U.S. and Europe. Together, we will continue to grow our Cancer Caregivers Community!

Wishing you all Peace, Love, and Joy in the New Year!

Warm Regards,









Barbara Baroff Kavanagh, MSW, LCSW

Barbara B. Kavanagh is the Founder and CEO of Arizona Myeloma Network (AzMN).  She is a published author and served as faculty for universities including Boston University, Boston College Graduate School of Social Work, and Arizona State University. She holds a master’s degree in Social Work from Boston University and a bachelor’s from Duke University. Her first business, People to People Associates, Inc., a counseling, consulting, and training company, operated for fifteen years in Lexington, Mass.

AzMN is 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization started in 2004 by Barbara and her husband Jack who is a 27-year survivor of multiple myeloma. In 2003, they moved to Arizona to be near the Mayo Clinic for his ongoing treatments. In 2005, Barbara organized the first of many Living with Myeloma Roundtable and Conferences in Scottsdale, AZ. The conference attracted more than 300 attendees annually. All AzMN programs are designed to educate cancer patients, cancer caregivers, oncology healthcare professionals, researchers, and the public on the newest in cancer treatments and how to give and receive the best possible care.

AzMN has delivered hundreds of cancer patient and caregiver conferences throughout the State. Multiple Cancer Caregiver Education Program (CCEP TM) conferences are scheduled in 2018. Conferences are free and open to the public. They provide cancer patients and their caregivers the practical knowledge, skills and strategies necessary to effectively care for themselves. CCEP TM is a customizable program for companies and healthcare organizations that want provide onsite training for employees and constituents.

The Office of the Governor of Arizona recognizes AzMN with a proclamation annually designating a week in March as “Arizona Myeloma Awareness Week.” AzMN is recognized by Great Nonprofits as a “Top-Rated Nonprofit” for multiple years. Barbara, herself, continues to receive awards for her work. She is the recipient of the prestigious Hon Kachina Outstanding Volunteerism Award, The Phoenix Business Journal’s Healthcare Hero Award, the Arizona Rural Healthcare Association Volunteer of the Year award and the 2014 Arizona Business Magazine’s Healthcare Leadership Award for Community Outreach. She was profiled as a Woman of Distinction in the 2016 edition of WOD Magazine.  She is featured on radio, television, and in publications.

Barbara and Jack are mentioned in Tom Brokaw’s book  A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope. Her books on volunteerism and patient advocacy include  The New Volunteerism, A Community ConnectionThe New Partnership: Human Services, Business and Industry; and  Training Volunteers in the New Millennium: An International Connection reflect a life dedicated to teaching and mentoring others to achieve their goals and transform their own lives and those they touch. She is currently working on her next book “Caring for the Cancer Caregiver”. Her intent is to provide practical information on how to navigate the complex world of cancer patient and caregiver survivorship



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