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Coping with Christmas when you have cancer

This page gives tips and advice about coping at Christmas when you have cancer. There is information about


Issues at Christmas

Many of us associate Christmas with seeing family and friends, parties, and lots of eating and drinking. It is a time of celebration.

Christmas tree

But when you have cancer, you may tire more easily. Your cancer or treatment may mean that you have trouble joining in with all the festive eating and drinking. 

Find out how to cope so that you can make the most of the celebrations.


Eating and drinking

Many people who have cancer have few or no problems related to eating but some do. These problems may include loss of appetite, feeling sick, constipation or taste changes. At Christmas you may have added pressure from friends and family who want you to eat something when you might not want to.

There are a few things you can do to deal with eating problems. Even if you aren’t able to eat as much as normal you can still join in. We have a section with tips and suggestions for dealing with diet problems when you have cancer.

If you have a specific problem, talk to your doctor or nurse before Christmas to try to sort things out. For example, if you feel sick you might need to make sure you have enough anti sickness medicines for the whole holiday.

Nurse talking with patient

Cooking can put you off eating and sometimes the smell can make sickness worse. Try to get someone else to cook for you. If someone else is cooking and serving your meal, ask for a small portion. You can always go back for more if you want it.

Many people like to have a glass of wine or other alcohol at Christmas. This can help you to relax as well. Generally, the odd glass of wine or beer isn’t a problem but check with your doctor or specialist nurse if you are having treatment. Alcohol can sometimes interfere with how cancer drugs work or may make you feel very sick.



Tiredness can be a problem for people with cancer during and after treatment. Try to rest when you need to. And don’t feel embarrassed if you do need to rest. Having visitors or going to see people can be very tiring and friends and family will understand. If you do tire easily, try to pace yourself throughout the day by alternating activities and rest.

Having a rest in the middle of the morning and the afternoon may help you to cope with the busier and more sociable times during the day, such as Christmas lunch. If you are invited to parties it may help to have a rest beforehand and perhaps only go for a short time. We have detailed information about coping with tiredness.


Your feelings

Christmas is often an emotional time even when you don’t have cancer. We often take stock of the year and our lives. And if you have cancer it can be a reminder that you aren’t as healthy as you once were or would like to be. So you may feel a range of emotions.

Everyone will react, and cope, in their own way. Some people just want to forget all about their cancer for the holiday season. Others see it as a time to move forward with the New Year and, if possible, celebrate putting the cancer behind them. Some people need time to think about what they have been through and what may happen in the future.

There is no right or wrong way to feel. You may find that partners and other members of the family have some of the same feelings as you. Talking through how you feel with someone close can help. 

People talking

You can find information about your emotions and cancer on this website.


Planning ahead

It is good to plan ahead before Christmas actually happens. Your doctors and nurses may take time off, so it is worth finding out beforehand who you should contact if you have a problem and how you can contact them. There will be a doctor and nurse on call.

If you have had tests before Christmas, check with your doctor about when you will get the results. Waiting for results is often very difficult emotionally. If you’ve had tests just before Christmas, the results may be delayed over the holiday period. If you know when you will get the results, it may make waiting seem easier.


Tips for coping at Christmas

Here are some tips which may help you at Christmas time

  • Plan ahead and find out who to contact if you have a problem
  • Make sure you have enough of any prescription medicines you need
  • Pace yourself and try not to get overtired
  • Just do as much as you feel like doing
  • Rest if you need to
  • Let other people do things for you
  • Ask for small portions if you need to
  • Have snacks available
  • Enjoy yourself!
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Updated: 5 December 2014