Dealing with the difficulties of cancer at Christmas

Christmas is a time of joy, festivities, family, friends, love and laughter. However, for many Christmas can be the most harrowing and difficult time of year writes Ellen Joyce, Director of Services Cork ARC Cancer Support House.

Cancer is never a welcome “visitor” at Christmas. The feelings experienced because of cancer are exacerbated. Feelings of shock, disbelief, fear, anxiety, anger, isolation, loss and sadness are so normal and holiday traditions can be a reminder of how life has changed and make dealing with these feelings more difficult. Here, I share some practical advice and tips for anyone affected by Cancer at Christmas time:

Remember, everyone feels different, and feel different things at different times.


Be gentle with yourself and those around

Christmas will come and go. Spending time with the ones who you feel most comfortable and at ease with is the most important thing. Everything else can wait.

Rest When Needed

Tiredness can be a problem during and after cancer treatment. Listen to your body, and rest when you need to. Pace yourself throughout the day by alternating activities and rest. Prioritize what you need your energy for and don’t waste energy on people or things that are not meaningful for you. Limit visitors to the times of the day when you feel most rested.

Ask for help 

“To learn to receive will be the best gift you can give.” If you feel fatigued or overwhelmed or just not able, it is ok to ask for help. It is amazing how this helps those who want to do something for you. So reach out - ask, delegate and receive with grace and gratitude. It is what Christmas is all about.

Keep things simple as possible

Forget all the “must dos” and “must haves” at Christmas time. Think of what nourishes your body, heart, soul and spirit and you will be surprised how easy Christmas can be. It is the simple things that mean the most and are and the most fulfilling.

Dealing with feelings

Remember, everyone feels different, and feel different things at different times. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Partners, families and friends will be going through their own feelings. Don’t presume what feelings others are experiencing. Avoid clichés such as: “but you are looking great” or “don’t worry you will be fine.” Talking through how you feel with someone close can help. If you don’t want to talk to family remember Cork ARC provide a listening service for Cancer patients and their families.

Eating and Drinking

Often Christmas can be focused around eating and drinking.  Don’t feel under pressure to do the same. No appetite, taste change, nausea and difficulty with swallowing can all be side effects of treatment. Stick to small portions of the foods you are comfortable with, don’t be afraid to say “no thank you” or “I will pass on this one.” The most important part is that you can make the most of the connections with family and friends during the festive season.

Avail of the services around you

There are many local support services in every community.  They are there to help you and understand what you are going through.  

There are also many helpful information booklets available online, such as the Irish Hospice Foundation's Coping with Christmas when you are bereaved booklet. 

During Christmas and the New Year, Cork ARC Cancer Support House in Cork city is open on the following dates:

  • Thursday 21st December: Closing at 5.00 pm

  • Friday 22nd - Wednesday 27th December: Closed

  • Thursday 28th December: Open 10.30am - 2.30 pm 

  • Friday 29th December: Open 10.30am - 2.30 pm

  • Saturday 30th December - Tuesday 2nd January: Closed

  • Wednesday 3rd January: Open 10.30 am - 4.00 pm 

  • Thursday 4th January: Full service resumes

Cork ARC in Bantry resumes on Thursday 4th January, and Cork ARC in Youghal resumes on Wednesday 10th January. Cork ARC's Friday morning cancer support service at the NICHE will resume on Friday 12th January.