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Holiday Stress and Cancer Caregivers

Tips for Coping


Updated October 08, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Holiday Stress and Cancer Caregivers

Coping with holiday stress on top of being a cancer caregiver can seem overwhelming. Most of us get “stressed out” during the season just going about our normal routines. How can you cope with the stress of the holidays, and not only cope, but enjoy your time fully as a cancer caregiver?

Put Yourself First

I know it doesn’t sound right to put yourself first as a cancer caregiver. After all, if you are healthy it can feel wrong to put your needs before someone who is not so fortunate. But taking care of yourself is your number one responsibility. And – if you don’t take care of yourself – you won’t be able to provide the best care and support possible for your loved one with cancer.

Plan Ahead and Prioritize

Are you someone who used to bake 12 batches of cookies or decorate the entire house in a day? If so, the holidays can be daunting as you add on the role of caregiver. Making a list of what you need to do, and tackling a few items each day can be helpful. As a caregiver during the holidays, I made 3 lists of things to do to prepare. One was for very important preparations, one included less important, but meaningful items, and one was for optional but nice things I could do (including sending holiday cards). I threw away list number 3.


Most of us do far too much to make the season bright, but what is the meaning of the season anyway? Practicing simplicity can bring your focus back to what is really meaningful – spending time with our loved ones – and be freeing in the process.

Express Your Emotions

Despite the festivities, many people experience moments of sadness during the holiday season. This can be accentuated if you care for a loved one with cancer. You may miss holidays in the past, when you and your loved ones weren’t burdened by illness and other concerns. If your loved one has advanced cancer, you may also be grieving the future, envisioning holidays to come without her present. We often try to be “strong” for someone living with cancer, and deny our feelings. Allow yourself to feel and express those emotions. Your loved one is likely experiencing similar emotions, and seeing you express yourself (of course tactfully and with sensitivity), may give her permission to share her own feelings as well.

Practice Forgiveness

If you are the primary family caregiver for someone with cancer, it is likely you are carrying more than your fair share of the work, not only in supporting your loved one, but in other areas of your life as well. The more caregivers I meet, the more convinced I am that the family members who do the most caregiving are the ones who are the busiest – not the ones who have time to spare. This can often lead to resentment. For the holidays, try letting go and practicing forgiveness. Hanging on to anger and resentment won’t encourage other family members to do more, but it will decrease your happiness and ability to enjoy the season as you deserve.

Enjoy the Season

Don’t wish away these precious moments as you focus on the details and all you need to do. Think back to holidays in your childhood. Do you remember every decoration and dish served? Probably what you remember the most was simply enjoying family and friends.

Make Memories

Take pictures, make a video, play a game that asks friends and family to share life experiences; happy moments, embarrassing moments, funny moments. Is there a new tradition you can start this year? The holidays, and all of the stress that accompanies the planning, pass all too quickly. Make memories that you can carry with you after the lights are taken down, and the last piece of fruitcake has been fed to the dog.


American Cancer Society. Coping as a Caregiver. Accessed 03/31/11. http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/Caregivers/CopingasaCaregiver/index

National Cancer Institute. Caring for the Caregiver. 06/29/07. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/caring-for-the-caregiver

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