< Return to Articles

Five Ways to Support a Person with Cancer during the Holidays

The holidays can be a difficult time of year for people with cancer. The holidays can add more stress to their already stressful situation. They might have a hard time enjoying the holidays when their cancer is always on their mind. They also contend with physical limitations that prevent them from doing everything they normally do and even enjoying the holiday feast.

This holiday season, do you want to help a friend or family member who has cancer? But you’re not sure exactly what to do? The experts are here with advice.

Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana’s Client Advocates – the experienced professionals who walk side by side with clients and families to ensure they get the help they need – have guidance on how to support people with cancer (and good advice about well-intentioned efforts that will not help).

  1. Don’t make assumptions about what your loved one needs or wants. Traditions might need to change, for just this year or forever. When your loved one says what they need or want to make the holidays better for them, support them in their decision. Do not guilt trip or shame them into changing their mind.
  2. Be flexible with your expectations. Your loved one with cancer may need to leave gatherings early or they may be unable to attend at all. You might even need to give your loved one permission to take a year off from the holidays if rest and recuperation will serve them best.
  3. Offer to help (and be specific). A person with cancer has a lot to remember and many decisions to make. Just asking “How can I help?” may be too open-ended. Instead, be specific with what you could help with – “Would it be helpful if I cook the turkey/ham/difficult dish?” “Can I shop for the groceries for you?” “Can I help clean/decorate/prepare the house for guests?”
  4. Avoid making the conversation all about their cancer. Talk to your loved one how you normally would before their cancer diagnosis. Your loved one may appreciate that the holidays serve as a distraction from their cancer, but well-meaning relatives always bringing the conversation back to their illness can be exhausting. Of course, if your loved one wants to vent or talk about their illness and brings it up themselves, listen to them attentively.
  5. Leave space for grief. Your loved one with cancer might be grieving the life they had before cancer. They (and others in your family) might be grieving the loss of people in their lives and facing the holidays without them for the first time. Let your loved one know you care and be there for them. You won’t solve their grief or make it go away, but you can at least keep them from facing it all alone. Grief Share has some helpful resources for managing grief during the holidays. Learn more by clicking here.

In the end, being there can make all the difference. Facing cancer is a lonely experience, and knowing that someone cares and is ready to help makes the journey a little easier.