Coping with Cancer During the Holidays

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A cancer diagnosis might mean you’re not feeling so jolly this holiday season. Rest assured, you aren’t alone. The American Cancer Society estimates as many as 25 percent of cancer patients develop depression; that’s contrasted with about 7 percent in the general population.

It makes sense. Just because it’s the holiday season doesn’t eliminate the reasons for feeling sad, depressed and lonely and it’s not unusual or abnormal for these emotions to surface this time of year. Those feelings might be exacerbated if you are in the middle of treatments and find your energy level is low and you experience regret about not being able to do what you have done in past years.

According to, family togetherness and the often-unrealistic expectations of a holiday season filled with picture-perfect, joyful gatherings can cause tremendous stress for anyone, let alone a cancer survivor. What’s their advice? “Don’t feel obligated to be festive or try to be all things to all people.”

There is no right or wrong way to handle the holidays says Sarah Kelly, LMSW and an oncology social worker with

“Some people may wish to follow traditions, while others may choose to change things up. Don’t feel you must make every single moment of the holiday season memorable. It’s better to limit yourself to a few events instead of drifting from one event to another, or feeling too exhausted to be able to enjoy any occasion.”

Kelly recommends planning an afternoon outing or weekend getaway. Spend some time with someone you don’t usually visit, or perhaps spend time in a new or different setting. Even daily exercise can reduce stress by increasing energy.

Here’s more tips on how to cope through the holiday season.

  • Make the Holidays About Your Relationships
    Plan to get together with family, friends and co-workers. Celebrating alone is difficult, so don’t be shy about accepting invitations with others, just keep in mind you’ll need to find the right balance between “people time” and “me time”. Give yourself permission to pace your activities.

Add a Comment3 Comments

Lynette Summerill

Pat and Jill, Thank you so much for your comments. It is difficult for people without cancer, or those who don't have to deal with it vis a vis a family member to understand just how much dealing with the disease takes out of you emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally. Having cancer is hard!

It becomes especially difficult now because the holiday season holds such meaning for most people around the world, and this is the time of year that really makes you reflect on what you have---or don't, depending on your mindset at the time. Regardless if we have cancer or not, many of us do get sucked into the trap of feeling like we must be all things to all people. Warts and all, we can only be ourselves. I really liked the advice given here because it makes one think, this holiday may be totally different from years past, and even those in the future, but it can still hold cherished moments even if it is not covered with garland, ribbon, bows and frosting.

Wishing you both a happy and memorable Holiday season.

December 4, 2010 - 10:59am

It is a wonderful feeling to know you are not along in trying to figure out how to handle this, my most favorite Holiday. I am usually the family "go to" person for helping out,and this year I can't do all that I want to or that I am asked to do. Your thoughts help to rid me of the "I can't" guilt that sometimes follows me. Thanks!
Paa=rum-pa-pa-rum! :-0 jill

December 4, 2010 - 4:02am
Pat Elliott HERWriter Guide

Thanks for this timely article Lynnette. Coping with cancer is always hard, but it's especially hard when you hit the "holiday" season which in many ways has become a crass commercial retailing season pushing products on people. Getting back to basics and finding better ways to celebrate the season can help ease the burden of being bombarded with nonstop ads that are reminders that the costs of cancer make it hard to get necessities let alone frivolous luxuries that retailers want you to believe will make your life complete or make your children think you're a good parent. Bah humbug! :-) Pat

December 2, 2010 - 6:55pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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