Enjoying the Holidays Despite a Cancer Diagnosis
Photo Credit: Pamela Moore / iStockPhoto.com

Coping With Cancer Through the Holidays

The holidays are hard enough already. Facing the changing weather is challenging. Pushing through the crowds in the stores is a struggle. Balancing the wants of others against your own needs adds to your level of stress.

Although this time of year is meant to be a joyful celebration, the pressure and anxiety have a tendency to overwhelm the positives and make the whole time of year a negative, arduous journey.

Now you have another problem to contend with, but this is not only a seasonal issue. It is a situation that is long lasting and life changing — cancer.

Unfortunately, your cancer does not take a break during the holiday season. It does not alleviate mid-November and resume on the first of the year.

This unrelenting condition will make good situations bad and bad situations worse if you allow it. Rather than succumbing to the weight of cancer during the holidays, choose to combat the stress.

By practicing prevention and addressing your needs, you can make the holidays with cancer better than those of the past.

Care for Your Physical Health

Cancer is primarily a physical health condition. Because of this, you need to do everything in your power to ensure your physical health is as good as it can be.

If your physical health is suffering, the stress and responsibilities of the holidays will compound. Everything will feel worse. To combat this, consider the following:

  • Follow your doctor’s recommendations. If you trust your doctor and treatment team, it will be essential to follow their recommendations to create the best situation for your physical health.
  • Eat well. Cancer and the treatment that follows commonly lead to many issues with appetite. Plus, your energy will be lower, which makes the prospect of standing in front of the stove preparing a meal much less appealing. Without healthy foods, you cannot function at your best. During the holidays, there will be ample opportunities to indulge in comfort foods, but do so in moderation.
  • Exercise. Just like with eating well, the lack of energy associated with cancer treatment will make exercise an afterthought. Work to change this trend for better results. Exercise will improve your physical health greatly, but it will lower stress and boost your mental health along the way.
  • Sleep well. Speaking of physical health measures that improve your mental health, try to renew your focus on restful sleep. Do not accept poor sleep as an effect of cancer. Along with diet and exercise, sleep is a very useful tool to lower stress, aid in your recovery, and improve your decision-making skills. These benefits are needed during the holidays more than any other time.

Care for Your Mental Health

Caring for your physical health will set the stage for you to manage holiday stress, but the real work will be done with your mental health. Yes, cancer is physical, but the implications extend well into your mental health status.

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Inspect Your Self-Talk

Self-talk is the ongoing conversation you have with yourself throughout the day. Self-talk plays a massive role in influencing your feelings.

Often, self-talk can be overly negative and irrational, which could change your views of the holidays. You can never be sure of the holiday outcomes, and thinking poorly about the gatherings may lead to self-fulfilling prophecies where your views influence your perceptions.

To overcome this, focus on the positive interactions that could come with the visit. Arriving with a sense of hope will improve your chances of better outcomes.

Modify Your Expectations

Holidays are times of great traditions and routines. You may feel a large amount of pressure to maintain the activities in the past even though you are not physically able to this year.

Conversely, you may feel like you can no longer do anything with your diagnosis and cancel all of your plans. Modifying your expectations means that you arrive at conclusions that match your abilities with doing too much or too little.

If you expect too much of yourself, you could be let down and feel like a failure. If you expect too little, you could miss out on some healthy interactions.


You already know the holidays add to your stress, and you know cancer adds to your stress. Because of the double intensity, you need to find double the stress relief.

Much of this can come from forms of relaxation. Engaging in specific relaxation techniques like deep breathing, guided imagery, autogenics, and progressive muscle relaxation will manage your stress quickly and efficiently.

Other options like yoga and forms of meditation will be very helpful as well. Sitting on the couch, swiping through social media, and consuming alcohol and other drugs are passive experiences and do not create much relaxation. They may even make stress worse.

Clarify Your Communication

Once your expectations are established, communicate your plans to the important people in your life. Remember, they have been developing their own expectations of you and the holidays along the way.

Chances are good that their expectations do not match yours, so communicating your stance will be crucial. Practice negotiation skills to balance your needs with their wants.

The best communication will continue on an ongoing basis before, during, and after the holiday season to ensure that your message is received. Focus your communication on being:

  • Clear
  • Respectful
  • Based on “I messages”
  • Specific
  • Prepared rather than spontaneous

Show Weakness

A great deal of stress develops when your presentation does not match your feelings. Acting like you are carefree when you actually have high levels of worry, anxiety, and fear is disingenuous, breeds stress, and damages relationships.

Letting people know and understand your situation will allow them to assist to the best of their abilities. If you worry about being tearful or outwardly irritable, let the other people know what they can expect and what they can do to help.

Two stressors make any situation more challenging, but it does not have to be impossible. Approach the holidays with cancer by targeting your physical health and mental health to find ways to succeed in the stress. You do not have to be superhuman; you only have to be yourself.