The holiday season can be an extremely difficult time for someone who is living with cancer. If you know someone with cancer and want to lend them a bit of extra support for the holidays, here are some ways you can help.
Acknowledge their feelings
We all know that there can be a lot of external pressure to be festive and cheery during the holiday season. For those who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis or undergoing treatment, it might be harder than usual to get into the holiday spirit and put on a happy face. It’s important that you acknowledge that they are going through a hard time, and that they are allowed to feel however they feel, without any judgment. In other words, if your friend isn’t in the mood to sing carols and frolic in the snow this year – don’t force it.
Don’t make it all about cancer
Although it’s important to acknowledge your friend’s cancer diagnosis and allow them to talk openly about it, it can also be helpful to move on to other topics. Talking about cancer all the time can be exhausting for a cancer patient, who is already living it 24/7. Don’t be afraid to talk about other subjects, even though they might seem trivial in comparison with your friend’s illness. Tell a funny anecdote or a story about your kids. They will likely welcome the break and appreciate the much-needed distraction.
Cancer can be very isolating, and the holidays can have the unfortunate effect of intensifying that loneliness. If you know someone living with cancer, they might appreciate a visit. But don’t forget the cardinal rule whenever planning to visit someone with cancer – Ask first! Never stop by unannounced. Call ahead and see if they’re up for a visit and adapt to their schedule. Other best practices for visiting someone with cancer: Don’t go to their house if you have a cold or flu. Don’t bring others with you unless you’ve asked if it’s okay. Don’t expect them to entertain you. Don’t stay long, even if you haven’t been asked to leave.
Ok, that may seem like a lot of “Don’ts” – but DO visit! Just follow the rules.
Offer to help
Getting through your holiday to-do list can be exhausting enough, without the added challenge of undergoing cancer treatment. Side effects like extreme fatigue can create a barrier to getting everything done. If you know someone going through cancer, offer a helping hand. Perhaps you can decorate their Christmas tree while they lounge on the couch, or help bake cookies for their child’s bake sale. Or maybe they need help shopping for gifts for their family and require the service of a friendly elf (i.e. you!). Something that might seem like a small act to you might very well be a huge gift to someone who has cancer.
Cooking can be a huge burden to someone dealing with cancer. Why not spread some joy for the holidays and cook them a meal or two and drop it off? (Pro tip: Offer to leave it at the door if they’re not up for visitors.) It’s possible that their treatment might cause changes in appetite, so check first to see what they feel like. There might be something in particular your friend is craving that will bring some added comfort for the holidays. If they’re having stomach or nausea issues, try to keep the meal relatively bland – think soups, potatoes, and lean meats. Try to avoid anything greasy, fried, or heavily spiced. Meals and food items that can be easily frozen, such as a lasagna or zucchini bread loaf, are also a great idea so that your friend always has something on hand if they aren’t up to cooking. A nutritious home-cooked meal is a great way to show your support and bring a bit of festive cheer into your friend’s home (and stomach!).
Give a thoughtful gift
If you know someone living with cancer over the holidays, chances are their spirit might need a little bit of a lift. Surprising them with a thoughtful gift might be just the ticket to brighten their day. If you’re stuck for ideas, think cozy and relaxing – a fuzzy bathrobe, warm slippers, a beautiful tea cup, a soft throw blanket – anything that will provide a bit of extra comfort during the holidays. If they’re undergoing chemotherapy, a stylish winter hat or head covering would likely be appreciated as well. If you’re not able to visit or ship your gift, try an e-gift instead, like an iTunes purchase of a movie or TV series they might enjoy. Just showing that you are thinking of them will go a long way. And let’s be honest – who doesn’t love presents?
When all is said and done, the best way to support someone with cancer during the holidays is just to be there for him or her. Remind them that they are not alone and that you are willing to step up and help with whatever is needed by lending your ear, your shoulder, or your hand (just make sure to wash and sanitize that hand first, because the gift of your germs is very unlikely to pop up on someone with cancer’s holiday wish list).
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