Cancer and the Holidays

By Caring Connections Team


For people who are living with cancer and experiencing an often emotional roller coaster, the holidays can bring the blues. These times with friends and family are exactly the ones we want to cherish even more than before cancer, but in reality, they can leave many of us feeling overwhelmed. Families and friends may” be unsure how much or how little “to do” in preparation for the holidays. So why do the holidays trigger such anxiety and sadness?

Maybe the holidays have always been your favorite time of year, but now you just can’t get in the mood. There is a detachment from the holiday cheer — it’s not in sync with how we feel. The disconnect between the joyous time of year and the sad feelings inside leave us feeling that this holiday isn’t how it is “supposed to be.”

Then there is the frenzy of the holidays. When going through treatment or navigating survivorship the smallest thing can be overwhelming. As much as we may love the holidays, they can pack on extra stress. There is the house to decorate, the tree to trim, the gifts to buy, the cookies to bake. We celebrate at work and at home, there are houseguests, we travel… it really is a lot. Combine all of this with not feeling well physically or emotionally or spiritually and it’s just too much.

The end of the year is a time of reflection, and when you have experienced trauma this can be painful. We try to process all that has happened in the last 12 months. Maybe it was our own diagnosis or perhaps we lost a friend that we met along the way. Thinking back over the struggles of the last year(s) may cause sadness, confusion, and grief.

Lastly, the season is a time to look forward, but thinking about the future can be scary. Cancer is filled with so much uncertainty. For people in active treatment, there is an unclear outcome, while for those navigating their “new normal” there is the fear of recurrence. For family members, there is the dance of the present and the unknown. There is a desperate grasping for each moment that leads to enormous pressure to make this holiday perfect.

Five Tips for Coping with Cancer and the Holiday Blues

  1. Reach out if you are feeling alone. Many friends and family don’t know how to be supportive and may feel like they are being bothersome. It’s not fair, but sometimes we have to be the ones to make the first move and tell them what we are needing.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up about not being in the holiday spirit. It’s okay to not be jolly all the time.
  3. Don’t over-schedule yourself. Say no to some invitations, cut down on commitments, and give yourself permission to stay put this year.
  4. Remind yourself that the day won’t be perfect. You may not have as much energy normal, you may not have an appetite for the fruitcake, and you may have to face awkward family conversations. Perfection is in the imperfect.
  5. If you are a caregiver, pay attention to your limits as well. Talk with your loved one about what is best for both of you, and call in support for whatever may be needed. Be realistic and focus on what is most important.
  6. Be here now. Looking at the whole picture can be overwhelming. Take it moment by moment.

Holidays are opportunities for us to share the love. “Love is what is in the room with you when you really stop to listen”. May this season be a precious time of listening for each of us.

Elements from this post come from Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative from Huffington Post. Thanks to Kimberly Fink for this writing.

Lucretia Hurley-Browning, MDiv, MS, is a guest writer whose recent background includes Chaplain of Abramson Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital and the Director of Juniper Tree Counseling Center. She is a therapist and ordained United Methodist Minister. Currently, she is a writer by day, a reader by night, and is passionate about living life meaningfully with a good dose of fun.

Posted in: Emotional/Mental Health, Mindfulness/Wellness, Side Effects