Top tips for coping with cancer at Christmas

Published: 11 Dec 2019

For many people, Christmas is a busy time of preparation, celebration, excess - often resulting in a fair sprinkling of stress before the big day. But when you or a loved one has cancer it can also be a difficult and emotional time - especially when you don't feel up to all the preparations and joyfulness.  The main thing is to take Christmas at your own pace to avoid piling on any extra stress.  Try to enjoy the season as much as you can – this year don’t feel bad about asking others to help with the lion share of the work.

We’ve gathered together some top tips to help ease you through the festive period. If you would like to find out more helpful ways on how others cope, gain some additional support and share your feelings and experiences, the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group is a great place to start.

1. Loss of appetite

Many people who have cancer have few or no problems with eating.  But some do, especially if they are going through chemo treatment.   These can include feeling sick, constipation or changes in the taste of the normal foods you love.  At Christmas, you might have the added pressure from friends and family who want you to eat something when you might not feel like it. Here are a few things you can do to help:

2. Not up to cooking 

If you’re not feeling great you probably won’t be up to creating the normal culinary Christmas delights in the lead up to the big day, let alone the main Christmas dinner.   And sometimes cooking smells can make sickness even worse.   Ask someone else to cook for you – but let them know in advance so they can plan their approach.  You can sit back and relax or be there to help out a little, but let someone else do the hard work this year.

3. Alcoholic tipples

Many people like to have a glass of bubbly or other kinds of alcohol at Christmas. This can help you relax. Generally, the odd glass of wine or beer isn’t a problem. But check with your doctor or medical team if you are having treatment. Alcohol can sometimes interfere with how cancer medication work or it might make you feel very sick. And if you’re off the alcohol, get some interesting non-alcoholic alternatives. Or plan some exotic cocktails - sans-alcohol.

4. Lack of energy

Tiredness and energy levels can be a problem during and after cancer treatment. Having visitors or going to see people can be very tiring. Try to pace yourself throughout the day by alternating activities and rest whenever you need to. If you’re invited to parties, have a nap beforehand and perhaps only go for a short time. The one thing you need to remember is friends and family will understand.

5. Handling your emotions

Christmas can be an emotional time if you have Cancer, and even when you don’t. We often take stock of the year and our lives.  If you have cancer, it can be an unwelcome reminder that you aren’t as healthy as you once were or would like to be. Everyone reacts and copes in their own way. Some people just want to forget all about their cancer for the holiday season. Others see it as a time to move forward with the New Year and, if possible, celebrate putting the cancer behind them. Some people need time to think about what they have been through and what may happen in the future.
There is no right or wrong way to feel. You might find that partners and family members have some of the same feelings as you. Talking through how you feel with someone close can help.

6. Planning ahead

It’s good to plan ahead before Christmas. Your doctors and nurses might take time off, so it’s worth finding out beforehand who you should contact if you have a problem and how you can get in touch with them if you need to. There will be a doctor and nurse on call.

If you have tests before Christmas, find out from your doctor when you will get the results as they may be delayed over the holiday period. Waiting for results is often very difficult emotionally. So, knowing when to expect them might make waiting seem easier. 

7. Let others take up the Christmas mantle this year

Don’t wear yourself out trying to do all the running around before Christmas - you need to hand over the reins to someone else this year.  You can still get involved – but only as a helper when you're feeling up to it – not the main organizer:

8. Learn to say no

Put yourself first.  If you’re not up to having people round – don’t.  If you don’t want to go to the annual Christmas bash – politely decline.  Stay home and cuddle up on the sofa with your kids, a loved one, best friend or the dog and watch a Christmas film.  This year you need to do Christmas on your terms

If you need a helping hand or to hear a friendly voice at any time over the Christmas period join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group.  You’ll find over 6000 people from across the globe, all fighting cancer right now, ready to offer their support.

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