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Hester Hil​l Schnipper Photo courtesy of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center​

SPECIAL EVENTS MAY TAKE ON MAGNIFIED SIGNIFICANC​E​​​​ for cancer patients. Many identify future occasions, such as bar or bat mitzvahs, graduations, weddings and births, as goals: The aim is to be healthy and present to enjoy these milestones.

These events can also be challenging. While you’re sitting at a table for a favorite holiday or singing happy birthday surrounded by family and friends, a small voice inside your head may whisper: Could this be my last? In the days leading up to the event, you may obsess over creating a Norman Rockwell-like experience, when this ideal may only be possible in paintings. Celebrations have a way of motivating us to keep going, but they can also increase pressure; the anticipation can too easily diminish the joy.

Here are some ways to enhance the pleasure and reduce the stress:

Plan for the Occasion

1) Be realistic and start small. If your daughter is 5, start with her finishing kindergarten, not with her wedding day. In making incremental steps, you will slowly accumulate a lifetime of memories.

2) When thinking of a special event, create a real picture in your mind to work toward. Imagine, for example, a high school graduation: where you will be sitting, how the sun will feel on your shoulders, the music you will hear, and the people who will be near you.

3) Don’t overlook less-specific simple pleasures. Rather than a July birthday, look forward to summer in general.

4) Seize opportunities to create smaller celebrations and acknowledge the joy of your life.

5) Remember that the anticipation of an event is often much more stressful than the day itself.

6) Consider sharing your feelings in advance with someone who will be at the event. That person can then be your ally if you need a break or some help containing your worries.

Experience the Moment

7) Recognize that any event is likely to be bittersweet. You may not be able to eliminate the bitter part, but you can focus on the sweetness.

8) Lower your expectations. This does not need to be the very best day ever. There is happiness in just being there.

9) If you are planning a feast, consider delegating tasks so you aren’t too fatigued to take part in the day.

10) Remember that you are fully entitled to experience all feelings at any event. Tears can join the laughter.

11) Be sure to take pictures that can join a collection of special moments. Put them on display on your desk or bed​stand. These events will serve as reminders and encouragement for both you and your family going forward. 

Hester Hill Schnipper, a licensed independent clinical social worker, is a breast cancer survivor and the manager of oncology social work at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. She also writes a blog, Living With Breast Cancer, for the hospital's website.