Handling the Holidays When You Have Cancer

MONDAY, Dec. 18, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- The holiday season is a festive time, but making merry can be a challenge for someone with cancer and their loved ones.

"The holiday season is typically a time of celebration, traditions and quality time with family and friends. It can also bring challenges or stress with various obligations and gatherings, and it can be difficult to balance these feelings with the holiday spirit," said Courtney Vastine, a cancer social worker in Houston.

"Illness doesn't happen to just one person. It happens to family members and friends as well," said Vastine, who works at Baylor College of Medicine. "It is also important to remember there's no right or wrong way to handle the holidays. The patient should discover what works best for him or her."

She offered some suggestions for patients:

Prepare emotionally for typical holiday emotional challenges, such as anticipation, disappointment and apprehension.

Keep things simple. If you're hosting, have a small gathering. Instead of cooking for everyone, have guests bring dishes or order food from a restaurant. Or, consider asking someone else to host.

If shopping is stressful, try buying gifts online or giving gift certificates. If money is tight, set a budget and stick to it. Homemade gifts are another option.

Don't feel that you need to take part in every holiday activity. Turn down some invitations to save energy for the ones that are most important to you. It's OK to cancel plans or to take time for yourself when you need to, Vastine said in a college news release.

Get others to help with the decorating, shopping, cooking and entertaining. If they don't know how, make a list of tasks for them.

Be aware that cancer can change how people relate to you. It might be a good idea to write a letter, send an e-mail or call family members beforehand to let them know how you're feeling to help reduce some awkward feelings when you see them, Vastine suggested.

Expressing your feelings and concerns with others can reduce holiday stress, and it's all right if you get upset or feel a need to cry, she said. If you don't want to talk about your illness, let your family members know.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more on cancer and the holidays.

SOURCE: Baylor College of Medicine, news release, December 2017

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