Coping with cancer over the festive season

22 December 2015 | Annie Miller
Coping with emotions at Xmas


The holiday season may be difficult for people who have experienced a major change or loss in their life.

Feelings of loneliness, isolation and sadness are common and traditions such as Christmas can be painful reminders of how different life has become.


Set realistic expectations

  • Consider online shopping and/or gift vouchers for gifts This can save both time and energy.
  • If you are experiencing financial issues, consider ‘Kris Kringle’ or making home-made gift vouchers for things such as babysitting, gardening, or a picnic.
  • Booking celebratory lunches or dinners at a restaurant, arranging a picnic at a local park, or simply asking people to bring a contribution to meals can reduce stress.
  • If you are having treatment over this time, consider having a low key day on particular festive days and plan a celebration at the end of treatment.

Express your needs

  • Tell others if you are finding it difficult to cope and accept offers of help.
  • Be specific about things people can do to assist.
  • Be gentle with yourself.
  • Give yourself permission to get through this period in the best way you can. Let people know that you may need to have a rest. Try to accept any limitations you may have and remember celebrations don’t have to be perfect.
  • Mood swings and feelings of loss are common over holiday periods. Allow yourself some time to grieve and reflect.
  • Have an exit plan prepared for times when you may find a family gathering or party overwhelming.
  • Keep activities simple and non-strenuous.
  • Fatigue is a common side effect after cancer treatment. Avoid overwhelming numbers of visitors and long car trips. As energy levels may fluctuate, sometimes it can be helpful to plan the day’s activities and then halve them. Allow for rest time during the day.
  • Keep meals simple. If the person with cancer has had to change their diet, serve food that can be enjoyed by everyone.

Create new rituals

  • If your usual holiday rituals or traditions are too emotionally painful, consider creating a new ritual or tradition that is special to you. For example, you can light a candle in honour of a special person who has died and place it with a photo or flowers on the table.


Seek support

  • Talking to someone about your feelings can reduce feelings of distress and isolation. Family and friends can be a good source of support.
  • If you need to talk to someone anonymously call Cancer Council 13 11 20 (click here for hours over the holidays). One of our Health Consultants can listen to your concerns and put you in contact with support services.
  • We also recommend that you carry out-of-hour contacts for your treating doctor and hospital.
  • Online support including blogs and forums are available at

Other support services

  • Lifeline 13 11 14 (24 hour service)
  • Your local GP
  • Emergency – 000 (24 hours)
  • Family Relationship Advice Line – 1800 050 321 (24 hours)
  • Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Helpline 1800 200 526 (24 hours)
  • Men’s Line – 1300 78 99 78 (24 hours)
  • Kids Helpline (5 – 25 years) 1800 551 800 (24 hours)