Health Matters

6 Tips for Coping with Cancer Over the Holidays

Dec. 16, 2013
Holidays can be joyful times that create lasting memories. But, if you have cancer, or are caring for someone who does, you may find this season especially challenging. You may feel overwhelmed, asking things like: How do I take care of the holiday rush and myself at the same time? What can I do to help my loved one dealing with cancer?
holiday berriesSocial worker Sandra Sabatka offers these tips to help cope with cancer throughout this season: 
  1. Discuss the meaning of the holiday. An upcoming holiday could have new meaning for someone recently diagnosed or going through cancer treatment. Talk honestly with your loved ones about what this holiday means to you, and how you would like to celebrate it. 
  2. Adjust your expectations. The holiday rush can make for stressful times. If you traditionally host the holiday dinner, you may not have the energy to cook the coveted family recipes, and preparations may seem daunting. To ease stress, accept help from family and friends when it is offered or try a “pot luck-style” event where everyone brings a dish to share. 
  3. Create new traditions. You may not have the energy to handle it all, and that’s ok. Creating new traditions can be a great way to involve your kids. Consider having your celebration catered by their favorite restaurant, or ask friends and family to assist with decorating this year.
  4. Think “outside the box” with gift giving. Skip the malls and packed parking lots and shop online. Gifts can be shipped directly to your loved ones. Gift cards make for a simple, quick fix. If you prefer something a bit more personal, customized photo books and photo calendars are a great solution.
  5. Be specific when offering or asking for help. It’s hard to ask for help and, for caregivers, it may be tough to know how to best help your loved one. If you are caring for someone with cancer this holiday season, try not to ask what you can do. Rather, offer a specific action of how you would like to help. For example, ask for your loved one’s shopping list, and do their holiday shopping. Or, pick a day to visit and wrap all of their gifts. If you are coping with cancer this holiday season as a patient, understand that your friends and family want to help. Allowing them to do so includes them in your care. When they offer, assign specific tasks such as picking up stamps, addressing holiday cards, or helping to decorate.
  6. Enjoy special moments. Rather than focusing on how cancer has changed the holidays, make it a goal to enjoy the time you are able to spend with family and friends. Recognize that you are doing the best you can. Reflect on your strength and courage, and the support from loved ones throughout this journey.
The holidays can be a sensitive time for anyone coping with cancer. Keeping these tips in mind may ease your stress and make for a special holiday season.
Sandra Sabatka
Sandra Sabatka, LMSW, senior social worker at the Wilmot Cancer Institute, has more than 13 years of experience in oncology social work helping patients, their family members, and their friends manage the emotional, financial, social, and other non-medical concerns that may accompany cancer diagnosis and treatment.