Coping with the holidays when you have cancer

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mother and daughter baking

The holidays can be a festive time, but for people dealing with cancer, they can also be stressful and full of anxiety. For many patients and their families, the thought of preparing for the season may be met with mixed emotions.

And while parties and gift-giving often go hand-in-hand with the holiday season, you might not have energy for either if you’re going through cancer treatment. Nausea might make the thought of cookies and chocolate cream pie much less appealing, and just running a quick errand can leave you exhausted, never mind a marathon shopping trip.

To help you prepare, Dana-Farber clinicians provide some tips for coping — and celebrating — this holiday season.

1. Keep it simple
Baking cookies for your colleagues or children’s teachers might have been easy in the past, but remember to pace yourself. You don’t have to do it all. Pick one or two special traditions and then ask family and friends for help. Are you known for your big holiday bash? Plan a small potluck dinner instead. Make a list of what is most meaningful to you and prioritize. Some families even create new traditions through the process of treatment.

2. Take advantage of online resources
Crowded shopping malls may be filled with holiday cheer, but they are also rife with germs, especially in the middle of flu season. Shopping online lets you browse from your couch, and there’s often an option to have gifts wrapped. Trying to save money? Invite friends over for gift wrapping or a cookie swap. Simple homemade gifts and cards, or even a phone call, are just as special.

You can also take advantage of e-cards for holiday greetings, grocery delivery services, or tools like Lotsa Helping Hands, an online community that helps patients organize friend and family volunteers for all types of tasks.

3. Express yourself
Words like “Happy” and “Merry” seem to be everywhere: on the radio, TV, and as greetings in even small exchanges. Don’t feel obligated to be festive. Remember that it’s okay to show emotion — tears can bring a sense of relief. Pay attention to your own feelings and to signs of stress.

Remember that it’s okay to show emotion; tears can bring a sense of relief. Joy may also be side-by-side with other emotions like sadness or frustration, and it can help to talk these through with a loved one or a professional counselor.

4. Pace yourself
Fatigue due to cancer treatment is a common problem, so try to balance activity with rest. Conserve your energy by planning activities when you typically feel at your best and be sure to make time to recover.
Learn more about managing cancer-related fatigue

5. Embrace hope
Do something that catches your attention, gives you a break from worries, and renews your sense of hope and satisfaction with life. Watching a favorite movie together with friends, playing seasonal music, or even walking the dog can give you a sense of peace and hopefulness. Try to enjoy — and let go of — what you can.

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