While many of us look forward to the holiday season for the opportunity it brings to reconnect with friends and family, take part in seasonal traditions, and enjoy the winter weather; there’s no doubt that the holidays can also present challenges. There are gifts to buy and ship, decorations to put up, extended family coming to town, crowded shopping malls to navigate, and holiday traffic to endure. It’s a lot to handle.
If you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer, the natural holiday stress can take a mental, emotional, and physical toll. Fortunately, the holidays are also a time of good cheer and hope, and sometimes the season can help lift everyone’s spirits, despite the battle you’re fighting. The team at the START Center has provided these tips on how to make the holidays easier on yourself and your loved ones if you or someone in your life has cancer.
Tips for cancer patients
Here are a few things to keep in mind this season if you have cancer:
Spend time around empathetic, supportive people. Prioritize those who make you feel loved, welcomed, and supported.
Don’t be afraid to say “no” and delegate. You need to do what’s best for you, and you may not be up for your usual holiday activities this year. If you need to take a break from the festivities or go nap because your energy levels are low, that’s OK. If you usually handle the big family meal or put up decorations, let someone else do it this year.
Plan ahead. Let your friends and family know ahead of time that you likely won’t be at your best so they can be prepared. Talking to them ahead of time also gives you the chance to set the proper expectations for what you will and won’t be able to do.
Get exercise when you’re up to it. Even something as simple as a short walk can ease holiday stress and improve your mood. But don’t overexert yourself; if you need rest, get some rest.
If you have children or young relatives who don’t know about your illness, talk to them about it. Let them know that while you may be struggling this year, you love them, and your decreased mood and energy isn’t a reflection on them.
Tips for friends, family, and caregivers
It can be difficult to know what to do or say if a close friend or family member is dealing with cancer during the holidays. Here are some things you can do to help them during this season:
Give them space, both physically and emotionally. Let them know that you’re available if they need help or want to talk, but if they say they need some time or room to themselves, let them be.
Be sensitive about special needs they may have. For instance, cancer patients often have trouble eating hard foods or keeping them down. To make sure they feel included and have enough to eat, try serving things like mashed potatoes, soft pita bread with hummus or other dips, Jell-O molds, ice cream, trifles, etc.
If you’re looking for gift ideas, try thinking of things that will bring the patient joy or help them feel better while they’re undergoing their treatments. A gift certificate for a manicure or pedicure is a great way to help someone feel better after going through a rough round of treatments. Likewise, things like new music, books, or games for them to use while they’re in the clinic can make the experience much more pleasant.
Tips for friends and family who’ve lost someone to cancer
The holidays can be very challenging for those who’ve lost someone to cancer. Even if they did not die during the holidays, the pain of their loss is often more acute during the holidays because we have fond memories from when they were still alive, but those memories now seem tainted. Here are some things to remember if you’re coping with a lost friend or relative over the holidays:
It’s normal and all right to feel sad. You don’t need to be ashamed of these feelings. Your holiday experience may be different from many other people’s experiences, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. If you need to cry, don’t fight the urge.
Reach out to friends and family. Talking about your grief may seem painful, but collective grief is easier than bottling all your emotions inside. If you don’t feel like you can talk to your family or friends, try talking to a therapist, religious counselor, or another trusted figure in your life.
Tackle what you can during the holidays. You may not be up to hosting a large family meal or planning some big event, but even small holiday activities can help ease your pain. Sending out a few gifts or Christmas cards is an excellent way to connect with friends and family.
The START Center is here to help during the holidays
Whether you’re a patient, a survivor, or the friend or family member of someone with cancer, the holidays can be difficult to navigate. The doctors, nurses, and support staff at the START Center for Cancer Care want to do whatever we can to make the holidays as pleasant as possible, no matter your situation. We have support services for patients and their friends and family, and we want to help. To learn more, call (210) 593-5700 or visit our contact page.