Celebrating the holidays during cancer treatment: How to find joy

Between all of the decorating, baking, cooking, parties, shopping and
events, the holiday season can be stressful. And, adding cancer treatment into the mix may bring another
layer of stress that can cause exhaustion and even depression. That’s
why I encourage my patients at MD Anderson in The
Woodlands
to reset their priorities and let others help out during
the holiday season. 

Here’s what I tell them.

Be realistic

I start by asking my patients three questions:

  • What is a must for you to do this holiday season?
  • What do you enjoy most during the holiday season?
  • What
    do you realistically feel you can do?

Then I ask them to prioritize based on this list and find other ways
to accomplish the things that matter most to them. 

Here are my suggestions.

  • Decorating: Try to limit the amount you decorate to
    only the essentials, like a wreath, a small pre-lit tree and a few
    candles. If more extensive decorating is at the top of your list,
    invite friends and family over, turn on music, sit in a chair and
    direct traffic as they decorate for you.
  • Baking: Buy your sweets from a bakery, or ask for
    homemade baked goods as gifts.
  • Parties and events: Attend only the parties and
    events you really enjoy and have an exit strategy in case fatigue
    sets in.
  • Gifts: Consider skipping the malls and shop online
    instead. Gift cards are also a good hassle-free option.
  • Greeting cards: Opt for an email with a favorite
    photo or share a greeting on social media or via text message.
  • Family functions: Assuming your family knows you
    are undergoing cancer treatment, I hope they’ll be understanding.
    Just showing up to events is usually more than enough. If you must
    bring something, ask to simple items, such as drinks, ice, rolls or
    paper products.
  • Take care of yourself: Get into the holiday spirit
    at your own pace, such as driving around with loved ones to see
    holiday lights, listening to holiday music or watching holiday
    movies at home.
  • Connect with others: Most of my patients say this
    brings them the most joy. Find a way to connect more with others. It
    may be with a big group or in small gatherings. It could be sharing
    dessert, coffee or watching a movie with your loved ones.
  • Charity: Helping others is a good way to take your
    mind off your diagnosis briefly and get into the spirit of giving.
    If you’re not able to work in a soup kitchen, hand out toys, wrap
    gifts for the elderly or volunteer at events, consider making a
    donation to your favorite charity. 
  • Worship: This is a special time of spiritual
    celebration for many people. If you’re well enough, plan to attend
    your place of worship, but leave early if you feel fatigued. 

Enjoy the season

The goal is to enjoy the holiday season. So say yes to all the
things that bring you joy. Don’t be afraid to turn down tasks that
will bring you stress, even if it means sitting on the sidelines for
every one of them.  

And remember all of those friends who’ve offered to help out? They
mean it! Let them know when you need something.

After all, enjoying peace is what the holiday season is really all about.


Pamela Schlembach, M.D., is a radiation
oncologist at MD Anderson in The Woodlands.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
calling 1-877-632-6789.