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Embracing the Joy of the Holidays When Cancer Is the Uninvited Guest


Submitted by The Community Cancer Center

People with cancer and their loved ones can sometimes feel out of step from the rest of the world during the holidays. Questions and concerns flood your mind. How do I take care of the holiday rush and myself at the same time? How can I celebrate when I have so many other things on my mind? What will my life be like next year? The following suggestions can be helpful to embrace the joy and happiness of the holiday season—including enjoying favorite meals, giving and receiving gifts, reuniting with family and friends, and celebrating religious traditions—while living with cancer.

If you are a cancer patient:

Plan to get together with friends, family, or co-workers over the holidays.
Find the right balance between celebrating with family and friends and spending the time you may need on your own. Give yourself permission to pace your activities and to decline an invitation or two so that you have the energy to enjoy the gatherings that are most important to you.

Be an innovative shopper.
Use mail order catalogues, shop over the telephone, or try online shopping this year. You can also make a gift of sharing your thoughts and feelings. Write a short note or make a phone call to let others know that you are thinking about them.

Let other people do things for you.
You can delegate tasks and errands to others who may be looking for a concrete way to help you.

If you are a friend, family member or caregiver:

Be Honest
A loved one with cancer can tell if/when you are walking on eggshells or intentionally dodging them. Instead, schedule a date and time to have an open conversation with them which will give your loved one a chance to express dos and don’ts so you don’t have to play the guessing game. This is also a chance for you to ask questions or express concerns that you may have.

Include Them
No one wants to be left out. Depending on their condition, ask them if they want to join you. Don’t place assumptions on them, but give them a chance to decide whether they attend or not. Even if they do not want to or cannot participate, they will appreciate the fact that they were included in the plans.

Assign Tasks
Many individuals with cancer want to feel ‘in control’ and contribute to the festivities, so give them a task. Even if it is something as small as them picking out the Christmas tree ornaments with the kids or setting the dinner table.

Love Them
Check in with them and be what they need in that moment. If they are sad, don’t try to cheer them up. Let them express their sadness and fully support them. If they are angry, let them release that anger instead of bottling it up. Allowing them to be authentic will mean more to them than you’ll ever know.

The Community Cancer Center offers a variety of supportive and educational groups and programs, free of charge, to help patients and families cope with cancer and its effects. For more information go to their website at