It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas and while ’tis the season to be jolly, it can be a difficult time for people with a cancer diagnosis. 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.
If you’re feeling less than festive this year, the best Christmas gift you can give is to be kind to yourself. 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.
You may be feeling fatigued and this is normal. You can manage your energy levels by pacing yourself and staying active. For information on dealing with fatigue, listen to our podcast episode Cancer and Fatigue. Our exercise and cancer section has tips to guide you through simple exercises you can do at home.
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.
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.
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:
The Cancer Council Online Community is available 24/7 for people 18 years and over. People under 18 years old are advised to visit CanTeen Australia 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
Lifeline 13 11 14 (24-hour service) and online chat
The ongoing issue of COVID-19 has made life challenging for Australians undergoing cancer treatment, cancer survivors and their families and friends. For more information, visit our Cancer and COVID-19 section.