Christmas which is traditionally thought of as a happy time can provide challenges for those experiencing cancer, whether personally or as a loved one. In this article, we discuss dealing with those personal challenges when you or someone you know has cancer at Christmas
Eating and Drinking
Some people with cancer experience problems with eating and drinking including feeling sick, changes in taste and loss of appetite. You may not be able to eat and drink as much as normal but you can still join in. Have snacks available. Talk to your doctor if you have a specific problem such as needing more anti-sickness medication. Let your hosts know of any dietary requirements.
Cooking smells can put you off eating and make sickness worse. In addition, you may also be feeling tired. You can ask for smaller portions as you can always take more later and you can also ask someone else to cook for you.
Many people like a drink at Christmas. Generally, this won’t be an issue, but if you are undergoing cancer treatment then check with your doctor as alcohol can make you feel very sick and can sometimes interfere with how cancer drugs work.
Cancer treatment can be very tiring both during the treatment and afterwards. Having visitors and visiting can be exhausting but friends and family will understand. Don’t feel you have to host celebrations, ask someone else to. Alternatively, go to a restaurant. Don’t feel obligated to attend every event or bad feel bad if you miss gatherings. Try to avoid large gatherings and long trips. Try to pace yourself and to rest when necessary. Consider resting during mid-morning and mid-afternoon to try to cope with more sociable parts of the day and resting before parties and attending them for a shorter time. Let other people do things for you. Gift vouchers and online shopping can save time and energy. An alternative present may be homemade gift vouchers for things such as babysitting.
The team looking after you may take time off and there are Bank Holidays so find out contact details of who you should contact and how if there is a problem. Make sure you have enough prescription medication. If you had tests done check when the results will be available as it is often difficult waiting for results and knowing when you can expect them may make this easier. You could plan a celebration for the end of your treatment and have a more low key celebration now.
Allow yourself time to reflect and to ask for help if you need it and to be specific in what you ask for. Friends and family can help with travel to appointments, cooking and shopping. Allow yourself to cope with the holiday season however you can. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to particularly when you’re feeling under the weather. Ask a friend for support with overpowering situations including exit strategies from gatherings.
For Family and Friends
Different people find different statements supportive. Find out what is supportive for them bearing in mind that no cancer patient will want bad news. Don’t share stories of others who’ve had cancer where it has not gone well. A cancer patient may not be able to keep up their old pace and may appreciate an offer to cook and clean. Encourage them to take care of themselves with nutrition, exercise and rest and do the same for yourself. Caregiving can be stressful and you need to look after yourself and receive support as well.
- Cancer Research UK Coping with cancer at Christmas
- Vancouver Sun Coping with cancer at Christmas: A Guide for Patients and Families
- Cancer Council Act Coping with cancer at Christmas Factsheet
- Suggestions for an optimal cancer diet: hoaxes and myths not discussed
- Changing eating habits to relieve chemotherapy nausea symptoms
- Understanding chemotherapy nausea control: what you can do to help
- Christmas with cancer gifts
Natalie Murphy is one of Cancer Care Parcels authorised contributors.