Cancer Doesn’t Take a Holiday – And Neither Does Compassion
Some people are like bouncy little kids during the holidays. Others prefer to sit back and absorb the magic of the season. Some struggle to get through this time of year, for any number of reasons.
The same is true for cancer patients—they’re not all the same. Everyone views the holidays through their own life experiences – past, present and their expectations for the future. Here are some tips for supporting your friends and family members with cancer during the holiday season.
Neighbors and Acquaintances
One of the best (and worst) things about this time of year is the large number of events that are going on. If someone in your work or social circle is currently undergoing cancer treatment or is on the road to recovery, here are a few things they’d want to tell you:
- If I can’t come to your gathering, it’s not because I don’t want to. My immune system is compromised and I need to avoid crowds.
- Sometimes, I have to cancel at the last minute. I feel terrible about doing this, but I need to listen to my body when it needs more rest.
- Please don’t be offended if I avoid kisses and handshakes. Even healthy people may have viruses that could be devastating to me—or at a bare minimum, make me feel crummy during the rest of the holiday season.
- If I graciously decline your offer of certain goodies, please don’t push me to eat. I truly appreciate that you’re trying to help me maintain my energy and enjoy the party. However, I may be feeling nauseous or have strange taste aversions.
- Even though I’d love to stay for the duration of the party, sometimes I only have enough energy to stop by for a few moments. I’d rather make a short appearance than not come at all.
- Please don’t feel as though you have to completely avoid talking about my cancer, but follow my lead if I’m not in the mood to discuss all the details extensively. Every patient has different comfort levels with how much we share—and those levels vary day by day.
- Understand that I’m still the same “me” I was before, even if I have a new perspective on life. I love talking about my interests, hearing about your life and chatting about “normal” stuff. Let’s keep it real.
Family and Close Friends
We also have suggestions for relatives and those people who are your closest friends. In addition to the advice listed above (which can apply to everyone), here are a few other things to consider:
- You’re important to me. Whether we see each other on a regular basis or only get together during the holidays or for big milestones like weddings, you are a special part of my life.
- I might be in an over-the-top celebratory mood because my diagnosis has given me a new perspective on appreciating every moment life has to offer.
- Or I might feel melancholy, remembering past holidays past and thinking about future gatherings. Please respect my mood and understand that my emotions may fluctuate.
- Don’t try to “fatten” me up. I know this is something grandmas like to do for their loved ones, but I might not be up for eating—especially heavy meals or rich holiday goodies.
- Please don’t be offended if I bring my own snacks. Right now, only certain foods work for me and I need to keep my strength up.
- If it’s not too inconvenient, it would be nice to have a quiet place I can retreat to if the noise, activity and smells start to bother me. A bedroom where I can rest for a few minutes would be heavenly—even a quiet corner with a snuggly blanket can be great.
- It’s okay for children to ask why I don’t have any hair or why I’m tired. Innocent curiosity is sweet and it provides a great chance for kids to learn about the world around them. I won’t freak them out and will keep my answers age-appropriate. It’s important for children to be able to maintain relationships with their loved ones.
From a practical standpoint, there are many different ways you can provide support to those who are dealing with cancer this winter. Here are just a few:
- Help put up holiday decorations.
- Give a gift certificate for a housekeeper.
- Spend quiet time together, watching classic holiday movies or reliving past traditions.
- Offer to help with baking, if your loved one enjoys this type of activity.
- Ask if they need assistance with shopping, wrapping or sending holiday cards.
- Make it a point to check in periodically with a quick text or lengthy phone call—whatever they prefer.
- Shovel their driveway and sidewalk to keep them safe.
If you know someone who has cancer, there are many ways you can share the holiday spirit. Whether it’s another mom at your kids’ school, the elderly man down the street or your own mother, reach out and show them you care. It will mean the world to them.
From everyone at Illinois CancerCenter, we’re sending you our best wishes for peace, joy and love this holiday season!