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Supporting Your Friend with Cancer This Holiday Season

Publication: Austin Medical Times, Corsicana Daily Sun, Houston Medical Times

The holidays can be a time of joyful celebration and hopeful anticipation as you gather with friends and spend time with loved ones. But for people living with a cancer diagnosis, the holiday season can be so different from what they hoped or imagined, that it becomes a difficult, painful, or lonely time of year. 

According to the American Cancer Society, more than half of cancer patients report feelings of loneliness on a given day – a percentage that’s grown in recent years likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to be sensitive and alert to increased feelings of loneliness among your friends and loved ones with cancer during the holidays. 

Research has shown that having a robust support network makes a big difference in quality of life for people with cancer. Your friends with cancer need your support, especially this time of year. Here are some simple and meaningful ways to care for those who may need your good cheer most during this holiday season.

Offer practical support with holiday tasks.

Shopping and hanging lights may be common tasks on your holiday to-do list, but your friend likely has their own unique way of preparing for the holidays. One of the best ways to support people with cancer is to learn what traditions are important to them and help bring them to life. Together, make a list of tasks your friend wants to accomplish that you can help with, such as decorating their home, wrapping gifts, or preparing heartfelt meals for them to enjoy. 

Keeping the magic alive is important for children during the holiday season, too. For children with cancer or whose parent is living with a cancer diagnosis, consider offering to plan activities the whole family could enjoy, like taking a drive to look at holiday lights, cookie decorating, or a streaming holiday show.

Check in on how your friend is feeling.

It’s normal for people with cancer to grieve the loss of their own “typical,” pre-cancer holiday season. Each person will process this season differently, so it’s important not to push, but simply offer a listening ear and validate your friend’s feelings while letting them guide the conversation. Your friend may want to talk or work through holiday tasks one day, but need a break from it the next. Encourage them to take care of themselves and rest when needed. 

Look beyond the holidays.

Your friendship and support of a loved one with cancer will be just as valuable once the tinsel and twinkle lights are put away. Make caring for your friend with cancer a regular practice into the new year:

  • Help pack up holiday decorations.
  • Make healthy meals for them to enjoy.
  • Check in regularly by calling or scheduling a video visit. 
  • Talk about topics beyond cancer, such as their hobbies, interests, or family.
  • Take care of specific chores around the house, with social distancing in mind.
  • Run routine errands for them like getting groceries, prescription refills, or items for their home.
  • Join them in their favorite activities, whether watching a show, playing a game, or even going on a walk if they feel up to it.

Caring for your friend with cancer can give them the energy they need to enjoy the holidays and begin the new year with renewed hope. Your presence in their life matters and no task is too small or insignificant. After all, we can agree that there is no greater gift to be received than the gift of a good friend.

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