9 tips for navigating the holidays with cancer


Festive though they may be, the holidays can be a stressful and draining time for anyone, particularly for someone coping with cancer.

“How you handle the holidays may depend on your cancer diagnosis and where you are in your treatment,” says Diane Neltner, an outpatient oncology social worker at St. Elizabeth. “You may experience negative thoughts and feel overwhelmed, both physically and emotionally, with the many traditions, chores, and tasks associated with the holiday season. If you feel this way, it’s often helpful to focus on things that mean the most to you. Make a list of your most important traditions and activities and let the rest go.”

The following are 9 tips from the American Cancer Society for navigating the holidays with cancer:

  1. Allow yourself to experience and express your feelings. Whether you feel joy or sadness, give yourself permission to feel what you feel.
  2. Take care of yourself. Eat balanced meals, make time for some exercise and be sure to get plenty of rest.
  3. Find happy distractions. Allow yourself simple pleasures such as hot baths, naps and favorite foods, and plan simple distractions, such as going out to the movies or playing cards with friends.
  4. Don’t try to do it all. Decide which holiday traditions give you the most joy and jettison the ones that are a burden. If you love baking cookies with your grandchildren, do it. If sending out cards sounds like a burden, let it go. Think about what you need and want.
  5. Get help. The holidays are all about sharing time with family and friends. Be sure to share the workload as well. Enlist their help in shopping, preparing meals and cleaning up and don’t worry about cutting a few corners. And let the retailers lighten your load. You don’t have wrap every gift or prepare every dish from scratch.
  6. Learn to say no. Prioritize your time. You don’t have to do everything. People will understand if you can’t do certain activities.
  7. Watch out for alcohol. Because alcohol is a depressant, it can exacerbate negative feelings. Don’t overindulge.
  8. Don’t shop ’til you drop. Stick to a budget if you are going shopping. Buying things will not make up for any negative feelings you are having. Decide how much money you can afford to spend on gifts and other items. Then stick to your budget.
  9. Pace yourself. Plan ahead, assign specific tasks to specific days and don’t try to do too much in a day.

“For some dealing with cancer, the need for extra support will be necessary to help navigate the holidays. This is the time to reach out to professionals in your area. Whether that be a chaplain, licensed therapist, social worker, or local support group,” Neltner says. In Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, patients and their families can take advantage of the services of Cancer Family Care for individual counseling and the Cancer Support Community for support groups and stress management activities, she says.

“The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone in the feelings you may be experiencing,” she says. “If you’re struggling, please reach out to your support network or professionals in your area.”


holidays with cancer