Finding Stability

Living With Cancer During the Holidays: Tips for Enjoying the Season

Cancer during the holidays doesn't mean you have to ignore the season all together. Keep traditions simple to help reduce stress during the holiday season.

Living with cancer during the holidays adds a new layer of complexity to the celebrations, traditions and even the stress of the season. Fatigue may drain your energy, and medical expenses may limit funds, leaving little cash for indulging in this expensive time of year. Many people experience conflicting emotions around the holidays, and cancer can intensify that effect. Yet there are ways to lighten the load and enjoy a less stressful season.

Talk to Your Doctor

The first step is to talk to your doctor about your plans. You should be able to attend social functions and travel without restriction, but before booking any flights or finalizing your plans, it’s a good idea to find out what safety precautions your doctor recommends. If you do travel, bring along a letter from your doctor that describes your cancer, treatment plan and any medications you’re taking.


While you have many cherished traditions, this year might require some changes, particularly if you tend to be in charge of holiday magic. Some traditions can be delegated, and some can fall away. Maybe you can start some new traditions around the simplifying process, like turning that big meal into a potluck. This will help make the holiday special for others as well.

If gifts are a big part of your holiday traditions, consider paring down. Set a budget, or a dollar limit per person or family group, and then go shopping online. Online shopping will allow you to compare prices, and be much less taxing on your energy reserves. Plus, many places will ship the gifts already wrapped (one less step!) for a small additional fee. If finances are tight, there are other ways you can give — a personal letter from you is sure to be treasured.

Take Care of Your Body

It’s important to pay attention to your body and allow yourself plenty of time for breaks. Let your family know you’ll participate where and when you can, but sometimes you might need to bail to nap. Plan your rest, and schedule a day of down time before and after each big event. If you’re celebrating at someone else’s home, call ahead to arrange for a quiet place where you can step away if need.

Maintain the healthy habits that have been helping you through treatment so far. Bring your own food to parties and dinners if you’re worried about your diet. You will feel much better if you can avoid overindulging and get outside for a walk on a regular basis. And be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendation regarding drinking alcohol.

Conversations with Family and Friends

If you’re concerned that conversations may be awkward regarding your cancer during the holidays, you can prepare in advance. Set up a medical journal, such as CaringBridge, where you can share precisely what you want people to know about your medical condition. Provide the answers you find yourself giving repeatedly, and share the site with family and friends in advance of the gathering. If you would rather your conversations at the gathering not focus on your illness, add a line at the end of your post saying as much and stating how much you’re looking forward to hearing about everyone else’s lives.

What do these holidays mean to you? Keep this meaning as a priority, and focus on it throughout the holiday season. Enjoy the moments you have with your loved ones, rather than fixating on your cancer or what you’re missing. Each smile, each laugh and each new tradition is precious, so celebrate them!

The holidays can bring a rush of emotions you weren't expecting to feel. Talking it out with a counselor can help you process some of them.

Learn More
Judy Schwartz Haley
Judy Schwartz Haley