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If you have a family member or friend who is coping with cancer, you might be wondering how they feel about the upcoming holidays and what you can do to help. Even though you have the best intentions, it’s virtually impossible for you to know exactly how your loved one feels. Everyone responds differently to cancer, and while some people may want to uphold as many traditions as possible, others will prefer to keep the celebrations to a minimum. Therefore, it’s important for you to follow your loved one’s lead.

The best way to get started is to have a no-pressure conversation. Keep in mind that after focusing significant time and energy on fighting cancer, your family member or friend might feel a bit disconnected and out of touch, not to mention exhausted. They may simply not feel up to meeting his or her usual holiday obligations.

“This is the year to right-size the holiday considering the responsibilities of living with a cancer diagnosis,” said Donna DiClementi, manager of Outpatient Social Work at Moffitt Cancer Center. “A conversation with your loved ones about what is important and reasonable this year will reduce stress for everyone and can lead to an enjoyable experience.”

A conversation with your loved ones about what is important and reasonable this year will reduce stress for everyone and can lead to an enjoyable experience.
Donna DiClementi, Manager of Outpatient Social Work

Your goal should be to help your loved one find the right balance between celebrating and recovering. Here are some ideas on how you can do that: 

  • Volunteer to take over some mundane household tasks, such as dusting, vacuuming, shopping for groceries, washing clothes, doing yard work and decorating. This will help your loved one conserve energy and perhaps allow them to participate in more “fun” holiday activities without becoming overly tired. 
  • Put together a tentative holiday schedule and reassure your loved one that everyone will understand if they decline an invitation or cancel on short notice. 
  • Make yourself available. Sometimes, your friend or family member may only need a listening ear. Don’t feel compelled to provide unsolicited advice or come up with concrete solutions to every problem. Simply touch base frequently to offer inspiring words, see if they need anything and let them know that you care. 
  • Respect their energy levels. Cancer treatment can be physically and emotionally draining. Be understanding and flexible if they need to rest or cancel plans at the last minute. Encourage them to prioritize self-care. 
  • Respect their decisions: Every cancer patient’s journey is unique, and they may have different preferences regarding how they want to spend the holidays. Respect their choices and boundaries. 
  • Watch for signs of stress. If your family member or friend is not sleeping well or eating properly, or if they seem unusually sad, overwhelmed, depressed or discouraged, encourage them to reach out for help. 

Remember that your presence and care can make a significant difference in the life of someone with a cancer diagnosis during the holidays and beyond. Even small gestures of kindness can bring comfort and joy during a challenging time.