Dealing with a cancer diagnosis at Christmas

If you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer, undergoing cancer treatment, or working through the grief of losing a loved one to cancer this coming Christmas may be different for you in many ways. Whilst those around you are making preparations for Christmas celebrations, you may be juggling appointments or struggling emotionally and or physically.                                                                                                                                                                       We’ve put together some tips that may help you navigate through the festive season during this difficult time.

Make a list of hospital appointments, medication and emergency contacts

If you’re in the middle of treatment, be sure to check in with your healthcare team to confirm which treatments or follow up appointments will be impacted by Christmas or New Year’s breaks. With hospitals having a lighter workforce during this period, you should prepare for what could be longer waiting times or changes to your regular appointment times.

Take stock of your supply of medication to ensure you have enough of everything for the Christmas period. This is particularly important if you are planning to go away as certain cancer medications may not be readily available at retail pharmacies.

It’s also a good idea to put together a list of emergency contacts for the Christmas break. Speak with your nurse to understand who will be working through Christmas and the best way to get in touch with them. Make sure your carer and close family members are given a copy of this list together with your patient identification number. Whilst no-one ever wants to test the ‘emergency plan’, it’s a good idea to have one in place to make sure help is available quickly if needed.

Plan for a different Christmas

It’s important to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for a different Christmas. You may have physical concerns like fatigue, loss of appetite, pain or emotions like anxiety, worry, grief, or fear. Much of this can at times be overwhelming, but give yourself time to work through everything.

If Christmas is something you wish would come and go quietly and quickly, be honest and open about your feelings with your friends and family. They will understand. If you don’t say anything, loved ones may assume the celebrations may be a good distraction for you. 

Ask for help

If you’re keen on hosting a Christmas celebration, don’t feel you have to put together the celebration on your own. Enlist the help of family and friends to join in the preparations. After all, friends and family often want to help, but don’t always know how.

Be specific about the help you need and maybe even break down the activities into tasks that people can sign up to depending on their availability and preferences. For example, a friend who is cooking for their family might be able to prepare extra serves for your family’s lunch. If you have friends with children close in age or interests to your own children, ask them for ideas - or even help - to shop for Christmas presents. You could create a Christmas-themed working bee.

Keep a Christmas tradition and make a new one too

Christmas and New Year are often times of building upon traditions like family reunions, giving presents and making resolutions. This may be a time to think about creating new traditions for causes which are now closer to your heart.

You could ask family and friends to consider making your Christmas gift a donation to your treating hospital or a cancer charity. Christmas can bring out the best in people. Perhaps it’s a good time to set a personal new tradition by incorporating your personal experience and gratitude for invaluable support you’ve received.

If you’ve lost a loved one to cancer, feelings of grief and loss can seem more pronounced during family celebrations. If you’re comfortable, share your feelings with your family. Ask for ideas to sensitively and respectfully incorporate an item or activity which is strongly linked to your memory of your loved one into your present and future Christmas celebrations. 

Be kind to yourself

Take care of yourself. December is often a busy time of the year with work commitments, Christmas preparations and social events. If you aren’t feeling up to it, it’s important to give yourself permission not to get into ‘the holiday spirit’.

Chose events you feel up to attending and try not to feel guilty if you have to accept invitations with a ‘maybe’ instead of a firm ‘yes’. If you have to say ‘no’, even at the last minute, people will understand. If your energy levels are low, don’t hesitate to only stay for a short time. Your health and wellbeing are much too important! 

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