Coping with Cancer During the Holidays

December 2009

If you have cancer or are caring for someone with cancer, the holiday season can bring mixed feelings.

Some people may feel down or experience stress during the holidays. Others may feel weighed down by all they want to get done.

Regardless of whether a person with cancer has finished treatment or is receiving treatment, the holiday season can be overwhelming.

Here are some tips to make the holidays enjoyable but also rejuvenating:

  • Keep a simple schedule. Commit only to events you feel are important or will be fun. Say no to the rest. It is not necessary to attend every event you are invited to. If you attempt to do it all, you may find yourself worn down and not able to enjoy the season.
  • Ask for help. Invite friends or family to help decorate the tree or bake cookies. Hire young adults to do tasks around the house such as picking up groceries, cleaning and shoveling.
  • Make a new holiday tradition. Instead of hosting Christmas dinner this year, make it a potluck or have it catered.
  • Rather than travel, enjoy the season at home.
  • Shop online rather than fight the crowds. Often you can find a better selection on a store’s website than at the store—and you won’t have to fight the crowds! Some stores even ship free to your local branch for pick up.
  • Put yourself first. Give yourself time to rejuvenate, reflect or feel sad. If you need to, talk to a counselor or friend about your feelings. Do not feel guilty for how you feel.
  • Be patient with your loved ones if they encourage you to “be more cheerful.” Remind them gently that cancer does not disappear over the holidays. In fact, you may feel more upset and sad during the holiday season. If you find this to be the case, talk to a counselor or friend.

For patients and survivors traveling over the holidays, it is important to plan ahead and consider how travel plans might affect your health.

Flying may not be possible for patients who have brain cancer or have had lymph nodes removed. The change in air pressure can cause swelling in the brain or in the part of the body where the lymph nodes were taken out.

Patients who have recently had surgery may not be comfortable and in pain during a long journey. Sitting or laying still for long periods of time may also increase the risk of developing a blood clot.

Traveling to a sunny spot might be a bad idea for someone who is going through chemotherapy or radiation. Both treatments can make the skin sensitive to sun. It is important to stay out of the sun, cover up, and use sunscreen to protect the skin.

And most importantly, cancer patients often have compromised immune systems. This means they can catch colds and infections very easily. Make sure to check with your doctor if travel is necessary.

Wearing a mask when in a crowd will help to avoid breathing in germs. Make sure to pack medications in a carry-on bag and to bring extra amounts in case your luggage or trip is delayed. It also may be helpful to bring along copies of medical information such as your diagnoses, any current treatments, medications and contact information for your doctors.