Cancer and the Holidays

Caring for a loved one with cancer is particularly challenging during the holidays. Here are some common-sense tips to help you navigate the next six weeks with grace, joy and peace. (We first published this two years ago, and it was so popular we decided to do an update.) 

ThanksgivingTurkeyHolidays and special occasions are meant to be joyful times that create lasting memories. Many people enjoy reuniting with family and friends to celebrate traditions during these times. However, for the person who is caring for a loved one with cancer, it can be challenging to balance caregiving responsibilities while preparing for family get-togethers, parties, and other events. By planning ahead and using the tips discussed here, caregivers and their loved ones can find ways to get the most out of these special times. 

Talk with your loved one about what the special occasion means to him or her. An upcoming holiday could have a new meaning for someone who is going through cancer treatment. Ask your loved one how he or she would like to celebrate, and then try to honor those wishes.

Talk to your health care team about upcoming special events. They may be flexible about appointments in order to accommodate travel or other needs.

Adjust your expectations. Consider if an upcoming event may place too much of a burden on you or your loved one. For example, caregivers who traditionally host a holiday celebration at their home may decide to invite fewer guests this year, or not host the event at all. They may also consider hosting a “pot luck” dinner, in which others bring most of the food.

Holiday Foods Holiday smells tend to be strong, but are usually associated with happy times, so will most likely be comforting to cancer patients. However, don’t be surprised or concerned if they end up eating less than normal, due to altered appetite.

Tech Tools Family visits and activities may be tiring to someone on chemo or recovering from cancer, but they will want to feel connected. If your loved one is unable to attend a big wild family event, try Skype or video chatting, so they can feel part of everything without the overexertion or overexposure.

Establish new traditions. Caregivers who usually cook holiday meals may decide to order from a restaurant or caterer, or ask a friend or family member to help them with the cooking.


Enjoy special moments. Instead of dwelling on how cancer has changed a holiday or special occasion, try to establish some new traditions. Organize a holiday shopping trip, go see a pageant, or help your loved one decorate his or her home.

It is also important for caregivers to care for themselves during these times, in order to provide the best care for their loved one. Here are some tips for doing this:

Acknowledge your feelings. It is normal for caregivers to experience feelings of loss or sadness over how cancer has changed a special occasion. But some may feel they have to portray themselves as happy and cheerful so as not to alarm family, friends, or a loved one with cancer. Try not to hold in all your feelings; share them with someone you trust, such as a loved one or professional counselor.

Celebrate strengths you and your loved ones have developed. Many families who face the day-to-day challenges of cancer discover strengths and courage they didn’t know they had. For example, you may recall how brave your loved one was while receiving chemotherapy. Reflect on the strengths you have developed, and build on them during the holidays.

Do something good for yourself. Take some time out each day to relax and recharge, even if it is simply taking a walk around the block.

Recognize that you are doing your best. Acknowledge your efforts to care for your loved one and all you are doing to make a special event memorable and enjoyable.

Give Back. Holidays are a great time to show you care. Consider making a donation to a new concept for patient recovery. BFFL Co is committed to helping patient recovery, and during the holidays there are plenty of patients and hospital programs that could use a boost. Contact us at BFFL Co if you or your charitable organization would like to make a difference.

If you have suggestions for how to celebrate the holidays with cancer, please send them to us at [email protected]

Happy Holidays!

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