Coping with Cancer During the Holidays


Holidays can be a stressful time of year for any family, but dealing with a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. The holiday season is about traditions and celebrations.

Sharri Butcher, MSN, RN-C, Nurse Manager for St. Elizabeth Healthcare Cancer Care/Medical Oncology, offered some insights on how to help during the holidays. By providing comfort and cheer to someone with a cancer diagnosis, spirits will raise and they can enjoy the holiday season. Here are ten ideas to help your loved one:

  1. Ask about expectations. Ask the individual what they wish to do during this holiday season? What traditions would they like to participate in and which events would they rather sit out? It is important to make sure to ask them what the best time of day is for them and work around their schedule.
  2. Offer to help decorate. Friends or loved ones may want to offer to put up a tree or decorate the outside of the house. The individual may not have the energy to decorate themselves.
  3. Spend quality time. Cancer diagnosis and treatment can be isolating. Ask the individual if they need someone to drive them to and from treatment. Even the simple gesture of offering to sit with them during a treatment is greatly appreciated. If friends or family do not live nearby or are feeling under the weather, schedule a Facetime or Skype call with them.
  4. Change the subject. A cancer diagnosis does not mean that is all there is to talk about. Be yourself and talk about something other than cancer.
  5. Make a meal. Bring a hot meal to the house or make a frozen meal that can be reheated later.
  6. Help with grocery shopping. Their appetite may be affected by going through treatment. It is important to ask what foods they are craving and would like to eat or are able to eat.
  7. Give gift cards. This is a simple gesture of kindness. Food and gas cards are a few examples of gift cards that they may enjoy receiving.
  8. Show up with your mop in hand. Offer to clean the house for them or hire a cleaning service.
  9. Bring the gift of comfort. During cancer treatments, they may want something warm and cozy—slippers, blankets; warm robes or hot tea. The air in a hospital or outpatient treatment center can be dry so lip balm and hand lotion are also comforting. Be mindful of strong scents that may be unpleasant to those going through treatment.
  10. Give the gift of entertainment. Treatments can be long, and it helps to have something to help pass the time. Buy an iTunes gift card, a deck of cards, coloring book, a book to read, movies, or recommend your favorite podcast to them.

Most importantly, remember the holidays are stressful. Plan and communicate with your loved one in cancer treatment. The best gift one can provide to their loved one battling this disease is your love, time and attention.

You may also want to join a support group. St. Elizabeth Healthcare offers several Cancer Support Groups in the region.