From Lisa Ovesen, MSN, APRN

December 13, 2021

‘Tis the holiday season, and the hustle and bustle of the preparations, decorating, shopping and celebrations is upon us. For anyone, this time of year can bring stress, fatigue, and heightened tensions, but for a cancer patient, the holidays can pose an overwhelming barrage of emotions and physical challenges. By taking time to pause and reflect on the deeper meaning behind the season—which can be peace, compassion, spirituality, or connecting with others while creating memories—you will focus on what truly matters. In that vein, there are several things you can do to reach out to a loved one or friend with cancer and help them cope with this festive time.

Ask Patients How They Want to Celebrate

Patients, particularly those more recently diagnosed, might not want to be bombarded with the questions and conversations about their health that have the potential to take place at a gathering. They believe their cancer journey is personal and something they should not have to discuss with party guests. Rather, they want to spend their time enjoying the company of others at holiday celebrations.

  • Be mindful of patient boundaries and follow their lead
  • If they do not openly share their wishes, do not hesitate to ask about their preferences
  • Avoid comments on their appearance or change in energy level and focus on being supportive.

Offer to Assist with Preparations

The cooking, baking, wrapping, shopping, decorating, and card writing makes even the most energetic wish they had a couple helpful elves this time of year. Be proactive in asking your loved one with cancer if you can help with preparations or take on some of their errands.

  • Decorating their home
  • Doing their grocery shopping
  • Cooking this year’s holiday meal (remember to keep in mind their dietary restrictions and food preferences when making meals or buying their food).

Spend Time Together

The holidays lend themselves to get-togethers whether they be large family meals, gift exchange parties, or time to catch up over a cup of coffee. Loneliness contributes to poor mental and physical health, so make a concerted effort to involve the patient in event planning, parties, or quiet time for the two of you to connect. Remember to follow their lead regarding level of involvement.

For the hospitalized or immunocompromised patients, isolation becomes a bigger concern, and COVID adds another layer. Be diligent about hand washing, mask wearing, and physical distancing. If the patient is unable to attend large gatherings:

  • Offer to drive them around to view holiday light displays
  • Use platforms like FaceTime and Zoom to set up virtual gatherings
  • Schedule a regular phone call to check in, which has the added benefit of giving your loved one something to look forward to
  • Invite other family members and friends to reach out with phone calls, text messages, e-mails, and cards or supportive notes.
  • Share virtual support group options for cancer patients, like those offered by Cancer Support Community ( and Cancer Family Care (

Create a New Tradition

A cancer patient might become saddened if they are physically unable to participate in the holiday activities that they traditionally enjoy. Use this as an opportunity to create a new tradition:

  • If your loved one has always prepared the holiday feast, consider having a potluck or using a caterer
  • Remotely watch holiday movies together
  • Organize these activities virtually- ugly sweater contest, caroling, book club, or holiday story time with the youngest members of the family.

Give Them a Thoughtful Gift

  • Review our recent blog post consisting of a gift giving guide for cancer patients
  • Send your favorite patient a playlist of beloved holiday music or spiritual hymns.

My OHC colleagues and I are committed to healing patients, and an important component of this process involves addressing quality of life. We partner with patient caregivers to do all we can to alleviate patient stress, anxiety, and isolation. The holidays provide all of us with much needed time to slow down and enjoy quality time with family and friends. For more information on the comprehensive care provided by OHC’s multidisciplinary team of cancer experts or to request a second opinion, call 1-888-649-4800 or visit

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