Coping with Cancer at Christmas

17th December 2019

For people living with cancer, the typically joyful Christmas period can be a particularly exhausting time. There are several factors that many may not even consider that can make Christmas a difficult time of year for people affected by cancer. For example, even tucking into a Christmas dinner can be tarnished by cancer treatment affecting their sense of taste or they may feel under pressure to make a huge effort for the festive period when they’re exhausted.

Here are some top tips to share with your patients for coping with cancer at Christmas:

Listen to your body

Get plenty of rest and pace yourself. Christmas can be a busy time for everyone, and this can feel overwhelming when combined with the fatigue caused by cancer and its treatment. Do not feel like you must accept every invitation if your body is telling you it needs rest. For example, if you’re lacking the energy to go Christmas shopping, consider ordering gifts online. Getting rest is an important part of your cancer treatment.

If something doesn’t feel right, reach out to your doctor straight away.

Plan

Try, as much as possible, to plan so that you can spread out festivities and protect time for rest. Also, ensure you stock up on your medication so that you can get through the holiday period with the peace of mind that you won’t suddenly run out when your pharmacy and GP surgery closes over Christmas.

Don’t forget that calling the NHS’ 111 phone number will connect you to non-emergency medical support outside of Christmas opening hours. It is likely that your GP will be closed for the holidays so it is important that you know how to access services that you may require.

Take breathing space

Don’t feel like you must join in with everything that you would have prior to your cancer diagnosis. Tell others if you are finding it difficult to cope. It is perfectly OK to make an early exit if you are finding an occasion overwhelming – listen to your body and rest when needed!

Communicate

Speak to someone if you are finding it difficult to cope. Christmas can cause people to reflect and this may expose feelings of sadness. Sharing thoughts and feelings can often help.

Despite their best intentions, many people might not know what to say or how to act. Over the Christmas period you will likely see some people for the first time since your diagnosis. To help both you and them, try to be specific about the things people can do to support you and be open to accepting help from others.

Macmillan’s Online Community is an example of an online forum where you can communicate with others who understand what you are going through.

Be kind to yourself

Give yourself permission to get through this time of year the best way you can. Enjoy the little things like watching one of your favourite movies that can boost your mood.

It is, after all, Christmas, so take the time to treat yourself to some of your favourite foods – even if it is a couple of chocolates out of the tin!

Family members of people living with cancer may also reach out to you, as their GP, for advice on how to best support their loved one affected by cancer over Christmas.


Here is some great advice to share with those who have a loved one affected by cancer this Christmas:

Talk it over

Ensure to take the time to ask your loved one what kind of day they want to have when planning Christmas. They may not want to join in everything, or they may want to do more than you expect. Don’t make any assumptions. Allow them space to change any traditions that no longer feel appropriate to them.

Give practical help

Offer to help with decorating their home, prepping Christmas dinner, giving lifts or buying presents. Cancer treatment can cause fatigue so helping with these sorts of tasks can be a massive help for your loved one.

However, while your loved one may need support, especially at Christmas, they may find it frustrating if you overprotect them and try to do everything for them. Allow them space to ask for what they need, which may be emotional support as well as practical support, and as far as possible, treat them as you always have.

If your loved one is going to be in hospital over Christmas, make sure you make a note of the visiting times as these may be different over the festive period.

Thoughtful gifts

If you would like to give a gift to your loved one, some simple but thoughtful ideas include warm clothes, audiobooks and a v-shaped pillow to increase comfort.

Keep in touch after Christmas

The ‘January blues’ affect most of us, but for those living with cancer it can be even harder. You can help by making sure you continue to check in and make some plans for the new year.

Ultimately, remind your patients to be honest with themselves about what they can or can’t do and enjoy Christmas in a way that works for them. For the family of those affected by cancer, the key piece of advice is to be there to offer support in any way they can for their loved one.


Finally, here is a list of support services to signpost your patients to over the Christmas period:

Macmillan

The Macmillan Support Line offers confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones. Call them for free on 0808 808 00 00. They are open 7 days a week from 8am-8pm expect from:

  • Tuesday 24th December 2019, 8am-5pm
  • Wednesday 25th December 2019, 9am-5pm
  • Thursday 26th December 2019, 9am-5pm
  • Tuesday 31st December 2019, 8am-5pm
  • Wednesday 1st January 2020, 9am-5pm

The Silver Line

The Silver Line offer the only free confidential helpline providing information, friendship and advice to older people, open 24 hours a day, every day of the year on 0800 470 80 90.

Age UK

Age UK’s advice line is a free, confidential national phone service for older people, their families, friends, carers and professionals. Their advice line on 0800 678 1602 is available 365 days of the year, 8am-7pm.

Cruse

The Cruse national helpline will be open as usual over the holiday period, offering a listening ear and emotional support to anyone who has lost someone they love, or been affected by a bereavement. Call them on 0808 808 1677 from 9:30am-5pm except from 24th-26th December and 31st December-1st January when the line is open 9:30am-8pm.

Pancreatic Cancer UK

If you or someone you know has been affected by pancreatic cancer, their support line is open Monday – Friday, 10am-4pm on 0808 801 0707 except from:

  • Tuesday 24th December 2019, 10am-2pm
  • Wednesday 25th December 2019 – Closed
  • Thursday 26th December 2019 – Closed
  • Friday 27th December 2019 – 10am-2pm
  • Monday 30th December 2019 – 10am-2pm
  • Tuesday 31st December 2019 – 10am-2pm
  • Wednesday 1st January 2020 – Closed
  • Thursday 2nd January 2020 – 10am-4pm

Marie Curie

Call Marie Curie for free on 0800 090 1209 to speak to an Information and Support Nurse or trained member of staff between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Friday and 11am-5pm on Saturdays, except from:

  • Tuesday 24th December 2019, 10am-4pm
  • Wednesday 25th December 2019 – 10am-2pm
  • Thursday 26th December 2019 – 10am-2pm
  • Tuesday 31st December 2019 – 10am-4pm
  • Wednesday 1st January 2020 – 10am-2pm

The Samaritans

Whatever you are going through you can call The Samaritans for free any time on 116 123.


Resources

https://www.imperial.nhs.uk/about-us/blog/living-with-cancer-at-christmas

https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/coping/emotionally/christmas

https://www.wessexcancer.org.uk/christmas-top-tips

https://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/coping/talking-about-cancer

https://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/coping/getting-support/talking-to-us/macmillan-support-line.html

https://www.thesilverline.org.uk/

https://www.ageuk.org.uk/services/age-uk-advice-line/

https://www.cruse.org.uk/telephone-support/christmas

https://www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk/information-and-support/support-for-you/speak-to-a-nurse/

https://www.mariecurie.org.uk/help/support/marie-curie-support-line

https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/talk-us-phone/