Cancer, Family, and the Holidays

Cancer, Family, and the Holidays

b-present Team | December 7, 2023

The holidays are a time filled with joy, love, and cherished traditions. However, when cancer becomes part of the equation, the festivities can take on a different tone. Patients and caregivers often feel the holiday blues as they face disconnection and uncertainty, while family and friends may find it challenging to strike the right balance between celebration and empathy.

In this blog, we share tips to enhance the holiday experience for everyone involved.

Tip 1: Be Present, Not Perfect

In the pursuit of holiday perfection, families impacted by cancer may feel undue pressure and stress. The key to a more meaningful and less stressful holiday lies in being present, not perfect.

Your loved one may not feel ready to join large gatherings or family traditions. They may want to spend time by themselves or only with a few people. Allow them to “drive the bus” this season by recognizing and respecting their needs, wishes, and desires.

Tip 2: Understand What Your Loved Ones with Cancer are Going Through

Depending on where each person is with their cancer experience, the needs and holiday adjustments will look different. Understand the challenges your loved ones face.

  • Do they have sensitivity to certain foods or smells?
  • Do they have a compromised immune system?
  • Do they have any residual effects, including anxiety, physical changes, depression, mobility limitations, or reduced energy? 

Whether you are planning the celebration or are a supportive family member or friend, it’s essential to understand what they are going through, what is creating stress, and what concerns or limitations exist to help reduce stress and give them the normalcy they desire. 

Remember that they don’t want the holidays to revolve solely around their illness. Treat them as individuals, not patients, and cherish the little moments together.

Tip 3: Clearly Communicate and Manage Expectations

Good communication is the foundation of a positive holiday experience. Be clear and open about specific needs, concerns, and priorities, then work together to provide support. By focusing on what truly matters to them, you can build stronger relationships and create traditions and memories that embrace the spirit of the season.

Remember, good communication goes both ways. If you don’t know what they want, ask them. 

If you aren’t sure how to stay connected and communicate with your loved ones, try the b-there app! Our app was designed specifically for busy young adults who are balancing life and being supportive friends. Survivors can easily share their status, desire to connect, manage activities, and request needed items. Supporters can check the app for updates on how their loved one feels before connecting or stopping by, and they can sign up to fulfill items from their wish list.

The app is free and available to download now on iOS and Android

Tip 4: Tweak Holiday Traditions

Traditions are important but can be overwhelming during challenging times. This year, evaluate the significance of each activity and prioritize those that truly matter: Celebrating relationships and enjoying spending time with loved ones. Embrace change and focus on creating new, meaningful experiences. Don’t be afraid to be realistic about your abilities, pace your activities, and give yourself (or your loved ones) the freedom to decline invitations or alter plans as needed.

Example: If your tradition involves gathering the family for Christmas dinner, you can achieve that without spending hours in the kitchen. Ask each guest to bring a dish and have a pot-luck, have the meal catered, meet at a restaurant, or go to someone else’s house.

Tip 5: Involving Your Support Network in New Holiday Plans

Once holiday plans are established, engage family and friends in the process. Keep them informed about the new arrangements and provide guidance on ways they can contribute positively. Remind them of any sensitivities related to cancer, and emphasize the value of presence and shared memories over material gifts.

However, if expressing love through gift-giving is important in your circle, explore unique and thoughtful gift options on platforms like Love Her Hug Her or Carebetter. These sites offer ideas that are especially considerate for those affected by cancer. Additionally, your loved one can create a wishlist on the b-there app. This allows them to request items that align with their specific needs, and supporters can fulfill their requests.

For those who find it easier to organize gift-giving, setting up a registry can be a practical solution. is an excellent platform for this purpose. The Registry was created by Elissa Kalver, a stage 4 metastatic breast Cancer Thriver. Going through her first rounds of chemo, she thought, “So many people in our lives want to help us through this journey. What if there was something like a wedding or baby registry that could offer all of the things a cancer patient actually needs?”


What to do when it doesn’t feel like there is much to celebrate during the holidays

In this episode of our Support Squad Webinar Series, Cancer and the Holidays: What to do when it doesn’t feel like there is much to celebrate, Chiara Riga, Kara Noskoff, and Abby Westerman discuss the impact cancer has on the holidays (and vice versa), the challenges and concerns from the survivor and supporter perspectives, and provide some helpful strategies and tips for adjusting plans and expectations to create a holiday celebration that is mindful of the current situation.

While each cancer experience is unique, embracing these tips can contribute to a holiday season filled with inclusivity, meaning, and lasting memories. Remember, the key is not perfection but being present, understanding, and good communication. Let’s meet our loved ones where they are and not where we want them to be.

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