Finding Stability

Hospitalized for the Winter Holidays: a Caregiver’s Guide to Maintaining Normalcy During Cancer Treatment

It is called the most wonderful time of the year for a reason, so discovering that your loved one will be spending the winter holidays in the hospital for cancer treatment is upsetting to both of you. Yet, with a little imagination, the winter holidays will remain merry and bright.

The winter holidays are a time for celebrating and making memories with family and friends. You and your loved one wait all year to indulge in the traditions and festivities the holiday season brings. There are parties to attend, visitors to host, greeting cards to send, gifts to buy and decorating to do.

It is called the most wonderful time of the year for a reason, so discovering that your loved one will be spending the holiday season in the hospital for cancer treatment is upsetting to both of you. Yet, with a little imagination, the season will remain merry and bright.

Celebrate early

Talk about why the holiday is important to your loved one, help with the holiday preparations and observe a beloved tradition before his or her hospital stay if you can.

Being considerate

Review the hospital’s patient and visitor guidelines to know what gifts are allowed. For example, most hospitals welcome Mylar balloons and have them available in the gift shop.

Know the visiting hours and the number of visitors allowed. Also, be considerate of your loved one’s energy levels during the treatment. Let family and friends know if he or she takes a nap in the afternoon or isn’t up to eating fruitcake.

Be there

Remember that your loved one cares about spending quality time with you. When visiting, be present and listen to what he or she is saying, so put the cell phone and other devices away.

Ask about food

Check out the hospital’s available support services to make your loved one’s stay a positive one. Although the patient may not want fruitcake, he or she may be missing eggnog or other holiday treats. Talk to the staff nutritionist about creating a special version of the beloved holiday treat that meets current dietary restrictions.

Dress for success

Put a twist on the ugly sweater party. Arrive in the snowman sweater hiding in the back of your closet, put on a dreidel tie or show off those Kwanzaa socks. Surprise your loved one with a set of elf pajamas and reindeer slippers to wear while you watch a holiday movie marathon together.

Deck the halls

Decorate the room while your loved one is asleep or away. Turn the door into a giant present with wrapping paper and a large bow. Use red ribbon to turn the IV pole into a candy cane or adorn the walls with holiday greeting cards, but be sure to check with staff first before you start hanging your decor.

A hospital rule against open flames does not mean you have to skip lighting the advent wreath, the menorah or the kinara. Instead, use battery-operated, flame-free candles, or choose an artificial tree decked out with battery-operated lights and shatterproof ornaments.

Spread the love

Encourage long-distance friends and family to send cards, flowers, balloons and video greetings, as these can be enjoyed whenever your loved one feels up to it. If your loved one has the energy, speaker or video phone calls can help carry on the holiday spirit.

Spending the winter holidays in the hospital is not ideal, but with a little ingenuity, it can be a positive memory for both of you. Also, don’t forget to ring in the New Year with a sparkling cider toast!

To make the winter holidays special for your hospitalized loved one, contact UVA Cancer Center's Support Services or send a free ecard to your loved one.

Chris Kidwell
Chris Kidwell