Newswise — New Brunswick, N.J., December 7, 2020 –The holiday season, while considered a joyous time of year, can be challenging for many people. For those impacted by cancer, this time may be especially demanding and draining, creating mixed emotions and added stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals fighting cancer might find it a struggle to get "into the holiday spirit" while facing cancer treatment and managing symptoms and side effects.  The emotional and physical fatigue some patients experience can make it difficult to be involved in planning, decorating, cooking and socializing, despite whatever pressure they may feel to engage in these activities. Those with family members battling cancer might worry about how they can best support their loved one through the holiday season. There are strategies to help reduce stress and keep cancer from stealing your holiday joy whether you are a patient, caregiver or loving friend. 

 Take care of yourself, prioritize self-care and know your limits.

  • Recognize the physical and emotional stress attending gatherings may create. It is perfectly acceptable and appropriate to modify your plans to make time for adequate rest.
  • Focus on balanced meals, avoid excesses and make time for light exercise to reduce stress.
  • Self-care is an essential part of maintaining well-being and managing stress. Allow time for self-care activities you enjoy such as reading, listening to music, crafting or taking a bath.

 Express yourself and ask for support.

  • Remember it is normal to experience feelings of sadness over how cancer may have changed your holiday season.  Be patient, compassionate and gentle with yourself.
  • Though it may be uncomfortable expressing these normal feelings with family, friends or a helpful professional, do it anyway.  You might also consider joining a support group.
  • Accept the help of family and friends eager to support you. You may be surprised how much this can ease stress.

 For families of cancer patients, follow your loved one’s lead.

  • Be flexible with traditions and expectations. Be mindful your loved one might not be up for usual holiday obligations and festivities. 
  • Volunteer to assist with activities like holiday shopping, cooking, or wrapping gifts.
  • Most importantly, be there to listen to and support your loved one with cancer.

 Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey offers support services for cancer patients and families, including stress management. Learn about our Patient Support Services program.


Rosemarie Slirzewski, MSW, LCSW, is the interim director of social work at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.