Cancer, Family, and the Holidays

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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Supporting a Co-worker with a Cancer Diagnosis: Expert Tips and Guidance

A cancer diagnosis can significantly impact a young adult’s work life. The physical and emotional toll of treatment can make it difficult to focus on work tasks, and the uncertainty of the disease can make it challenging to plan for the future. Supporting your co-worker through this challenging time is critical.

For a young adult who has been diagnosed with cancer, it can be difficult to balance the demands of work with the demands of treatment and recovery. They may need to take time off for doctor’s appointments, treatments, or surgery and may experience side effects such as fatigue, nausea, or pain that can make working difficult. They may also struggle with emotional and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and fear.


Tips for supporting a co-worker

As a co-worker, it’s important to be understanding and supportive of a colleague diagnosed with cancer. Here are some helpful tips for how to support a co-worker diagnosed with cancer:

  • Be understanding of their need to take time off for treatments and appointments.
  • Offer to help with tasks or projects if they need to take a leave of absence.
  • Check-in with them regularly to see how they are doing and offer your support.
  • Remember that they may be dealing with emotional stress and be sensitive to their feelings.
  • Offer to help with transportation, meals, or other needs they may have.
  • Please respect their privacy and do not share information about their diagnosis or treatment without their permission.
  • Be patient and understanding if they need to take time off for doctor’s appointments, treatments, or surgery.



What to avoid when supporting a co-worker

On the other hand, here are some things to avoid when supporting a co-worker diagnosed with cancer:

  • Don’t ask them invasive or personal questions about their diagnosis or treatment
  • Don’t treat them differently because of their cancer diagnosis.
  • Don’t share information about their diagnosis or treatment without their permission
  • Don’t make assumptions about their ability to work or perform their job duties
  • Don’t pressure them to talk about their diagnosis or treatment if they don’t want to

Most importantly, don’t avoid them. Returning to the workplace is already hard enough without colleagues making it feel even more awkward and uncomfortable. If you haven’t seen them in a while, it is normal not to know what to say. Want to get off to a great start? Try a friendly, “It’s good to have you back. How’s it going so far?” and hold space for their reply.

Everyone’s experience with cancer is different, so be sensitive to your co-worker’s unique needs and feelings. By being understanding and supportive, you can help your co-worker navigate this difficult time and maintain a sense of normalcy in their work life.

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Finding Normalcy: The Vital Role it Plays after a Cancer Diagnosis

Normalcy refers to the state of being normal, usual, typical, or expected. It is often sought after by adolescents and young adults (AYAs) diagnosed with cancer because a diagnosis can greatly disrupt their day-to-day lives and cause significant stress and anxiety.

For adolescents and young adults, normalcy is vital because it provides a sense of stability and predictability in their lives. It helps them feel like they are still in control of their lives and can continue to engage in activities and experiences that are meaningful to them. Normalcy can be particularly critical for young people still developing their sense of identity and independence. Maintaining important relationships and knowing they have loved ones in their corner helps smooth the transition to survivorship and life beyond cancer.


How to provide normalcy

Providing normalcy for an adolescent or young adult who has been diagnosed with cancer can include several things:

Preserving routines that are important to them. This could be something as simple as that Friday pizza and movie hangout that you used to do, or eating a favorite meal (have it delivered if they can’t go out), or a favorite game night.

Allow them to stay engaged in activities and hobbies they enjoy. This could include sports, music, art, or other extracurricular activities. Collaborate with their care team to understand and address any limitations. This will help ensure inclusion in desired activities and enable tailored solutions that either bring the activities directly to them or provide the necessary assistance for participation.

Encouraging them to maintain their relationships with friends and family members. This can be done through regular phone calls, video chats, or visits. Be sure they have the necessary tools to stay connected.

Helping them to stay on track with their education or career plans. This could include working with school administrators or employers to make accommodations for treatments or absences.

Helping them to maintain a sense of independence and autonomy by holding space for them to make decisions about their care and treatment and respecting their choices.

Helping them to find ways to continue to be engaged in their community, for example, by volunteering or participating in support groups for young adults with cancer.

Helping them find ways to cope with the emotional and psychological challenges of a cancer diagnosis, for example, through counseling or support groups.


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It is important to remember that every adolescent and young adult will have different needs and preferences when it comes to maintaining normalcy in their lives after a cancer diagnosis. Please be respectful of their wishes and tailor the support accordingly. Needs will change over time, so continue to ask what activities are important to them.

Providing a sense of normalcy for an adolescent or young adult diagnosed with cancer will allow them to maintain a sense of control over their lives, even in the face of a challenging illness. It can help them feel less isolated and alone and provide them with a sense of hope and optimism for the future.

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