6 ways to cope with cancer this holiday season

5 December 2019 | Cancer Council NSW

If you’re feeling less than festive this year, the best Christmas gift you can give is to be kind to yourself.

Although it’s a time of celebration, Christmas can also raise a lot of questions and concern for people affected by cancer. You may be wondering if you’ll feel well enough to attend family events, how to handle tricky questions, if the holidays will affect your appointments and what next year will bring.

Here are some strategies to help make Christmas easier if you’re affected by cancer:


1. Speak honestly with your family and loved ones

Reflect on what you really want out of the holidays and communicate how you feel ahead of time to your family and friends so they can adjust their expectations.

It’s okay to admit that you may not feel like celebrating this year or don’t feel well enough for the events you usually host or attend. By communicating this to your loved ones, you can take the pressure off yourself and enjoy the holidays in a way that makes sense for you and your situation.

For information on how to manage the impact of cancer on your family and create a supportive environment, you can listen to this episode of The Thing About Cancer podcast, Family Dynamics and Cancer.



2. Do things that nourish you

Take time out to do things that you enjoy. Whether it’s spending time with your pet, going for a walk, watching a movie during the day, listening to music, having a bath or reading a book, it’s important to give yourself permission to do things that replenish your energy and say no to things that deplete you.

For those without support around them, Christmas can amplify feelings of isolation. If you feel alone, reach out to a support service such as Lifeline on 13 11 14 or call Cancer Council Information and Support on 13 11 20. Or, you can join our Cancer Council Online Community and chat with members across Australia.

We also have mindful meditation and relaxation tracks available to help you handle stress and take time out.


3. Talk to your healthcare team

The public holidays around Christmas may disrupt your regular treatment and appointments, and some members of your healthcare team may be on holidays.

If you’re nervous about how the holidays will affect your treatment or who to call when people are away, talk to your healthcare team now and make a Christmas care plan. Make sure you have enough of all your medications to last through the public holidays.

If you have special events coming up that clash with your appointments, let your healthcare team know – they may be able to reschedule your appointments.


4. Reframe your expectations

It’s normal for people affected by cancer and their loved ones to feel out of touch with the rest of the world during the holidays. If your holiday season revolves around treasured traditions, you may be questioning how to maintain those while you’re feeling fatigued or unwell.

Let people know that you may need to have a rest. Keep activities simple and non-strenuous, as your energy levels may fluctuate.

Think about what’s really at the core of your traditions – if you treasure cooking every year with your kids, perhaps the real joy you get from the ritual is in spending time together. Think of other ways you can incorporate this into your Christmas, such as watching a movie together.

For information on dealing with fatigue, listen to our podcast episode Cancer and Fatigue.

Staying active can also help reduce fatigue. For more information on exercise and cancer, visit our website.


5. Ask for help

Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you should be doing something just because you’ve always done it in the past – if you’re struggling or feeling fatigued, delegate tasks like shopping, cooking and cleaning to someone else.


Family at Christmas

6. Have a plan for uncomfortable conversations

If you’ll be seeing friends or family during the holidays, decide in advance how much information you want to offer and consider preparing answers to uncomfortable questions, so you aren’t caught off guard.

Respond to probing questions in a way that fits your current energy levels, the type of connection you have with that person and your own communication style.





Cancer Council Information and Support is available

Talking to someone about your experiences and feelings can reduce distress and isolation. You can:

  • Phone Cancer Council 13 11 20 Information and Support and talk to one of our Health Professional staff who can listen to your concerns and put you in contact with support services.
  • The Cancer Council Online Communityis available 24/7 for people 18 years and over. People under 18 years old are advised to visit CanTeen Australia’s website which is tailored for this age group. The Cancer Council Online Community is a platform where people are encouraged to share their stories in a safe space. Anyone seeking information can view the content within the website, including blogs, online discussions, and all public information.


13 11 20 festive period operating hours

  • 23 December: 9am to 5pm
  • Christmas Eve: 9am to 5pm
  • Christmas Day: Closed
  • Boxing Day: Closed
  • 27 December: 9am to 5pm
  • 28-29 December: Closed
  • 30 December: 9am to 5pm
  • New Year’s Eve: 9am to 5pm
  • New Year’s Day: Closed
  • 2 January: Normal hours resume, Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm


Other support services

  • Carry after hours contacts for your treating doctor and hospital
  • Lifeline 13 11 14 (24-hour service) and online chat
  • Your local GP
  • Emergency – 000 (24 hours)
  • Family Relationship Advice Line – 1800 050 321 (8am to 8pm Monday-Friday and Saturday 10-4pm. Closed on public holidays)
  • NSW Mental Health Line 1800 011 511 (24 hours)
  • Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Helpline 1800 200 526 (24 hours)
  • Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Counselling Line 1800 737 732 (24 hours)
  • Men’s Line – 1300 78 99 78 (24 hours)
  • Kids Helpline (5-25 years) 1800 551 800 (24 hours)