Navigating the Holidays When a Loved One Has Cancer

When a loved one has cancer, the holidays look a little different. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the holiday season even more challenging for cancer patients and their loved ones. During a season marked by revered traditions, it can be difficult to “celebrate as usual” while balancing health needs of a loved one fighting cancer. Here are some tips to help your family celebrate the holidays while coping with cancer amid the pandemic.

Be Present – Virtually 

There is no better gift than quality time. Find new ways to appreciate the company of friends and family through video chats. Rather than dwelling on a loved one’s cancer diagnosis, be sure to enjoy the special moments the holidays bring.

Adapt Traditions

If outdoor activities, such as caroling or flag football, have always been part of your holiday celebrations, consider adjusting them to ensure no one is excluded from the festivities. Instead, set up a virtual game night, or share a video of your family singing a favorite carol to lift everyone’s spirts.

Adjust Expectations

The holidays are a particularly difficult time for cancer patients, and your loved one may feel isolated while fighting cancer amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider adding new traditions that patients can participate in from afar to help your friend or family member enjoy the season.

Know What to Say (and Not Say)

Avoid commenting on appearance, changes in mood or energy level. Rather, ask open-ended questions about well-being and offer support. Your loved one may want to share a lot about his or her cancer journey or may not wish to discuss it at all. Give your loved one the freedom to do either.

  • Say this…
    • “How are you feeling?”
    • “I’ve been thinking about you.”
    • “Is there anything I can do to help make you feel more comfortable?”
  • Not this…
    • “You’ve lost so much weight!”
    • “You’re losing your hair!”
    • “I read about this new treatment on the Internet…”
    • “My friend had the same type of cancer and he/she is in remission now.”

Give a Thoughtful Gift

Deciding on a gift for someone affected by cancer can be a daunting task. As a general rule, look for gifts that are comforting, distracting, or entertaining.

  • Give this…
    • Crossword puzzles, Sudoku books, or adult coloring books
    • Gift cards to favorite restaurants for delivery
    • Cozy blanket to snuggle
    • Meditation or personal yoga book
    • Recovery basket filled with bedtime tea, earplugs, a sleep mask, and comfy pajamas
    • DVDs of funny movies or TV shows
    • Personal note of support or encouragement
  • Not this…
    • Scented candles or anything containing synthetic perfume that might trigger nausea
    • Plants or flowers, which harbor fungal spores that place patients at risk of infection
    • Sweets or candies, as most patients have dietary restrictions or follow nutrition guidelines that limit sugar

Beware of Germs

‘Tis the season for the flu! With more cold and flu cases and increasing cases of COVID-19, this time of year can be especially hard for someone with a weakened immune system due to cancer treatment. Follow safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and encourage others to do the same.

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