Coping in hospital at Christmas

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Hospital stays can be hard to deal with at any time of year, and especially at Christmas.

If you or someone you love will be spending the holidays in hospital after a cancer diagnosis, you may be juggling a range of emotions, on top of cancer symptoms and treatment side effects.

You might feel stressed about arrangements, or worried about feeling lonely on Christmas Day. You might be wondering how to celebrate, or you might not feel like celebrating at all.

We have looked to our centre visitors and storytellers Laura, Tina and Karen, as well as our Maggie’s experts for their tips to help you make the best of spending Christmas in hospital.

Preparing for Christmas

1 – Don’t put pressure on yourself for it to be perfect. Your health is more important!

– Laura, centre visitor, Maggie's Aberdeen

Christmas doesn't have to be perfect. Life is messy, so Christmas can be messy too.

2 – Take advantage of the Christmas spirit.

– Graham Cone, Cancer Support Specialist at Maggie’s Cambridge

Your friends, family or colleagues will be happy to know that there is something they can do to help you, so don’t be too shy to ask! For example, you could ask for help with:

  • doing a food shop
  • ordering Christmas presents
  • doing the school run for your children
  • writing Christmas cards
  • wrapping gifts
  • washing and bringing you clean clothes
  • picking up toiletries you need in hospital
  • painting your nails.

– We’ve got an elf that we have every year. When I wasn’t well or when I was in hospital in December, the elf was moved around wherever Reiko was. Regardless of what’s going on health-wise, the elf continues.

– Laura, centre visitor, Maggie's Aberdeen

If you have children, there are festive activities you can arrange for them that make you feel involved too. Advent calendars and a moving ‘Elf on the Shelf’ are great ways to maintain the Christmas ‘magic’ and a sense of routine for your child. Be sure to ask people in your support circle to help you.

– Present planning is a big thing too.

– Laura

If giving gifts at Christmas is important to you, then a little planning in advance will help you avoid any additional worries when you are in hospital. Ordering gifts online to be delivered straight to the recipient will save you a job, and many retailers offer a gift-wrapping service too.

– Remember, it’s not just about spending money.

– Tim Callen, Clinical Psychologist at Maggie’s Royal Marsden

You may be facing time off work as well as additional costs related to your cancer and treatment and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. Don’t feel pressured to buy gifts if you are struggling financially. You may be eligible for some free treats and experiences that you can enjoy with your family instead.

– We knew I would be away for Christmas, so we celebrated Christmas in November, which was lovely for both me and my family.

– Karen, centre visitor, Maggie's Southampton

If the most important thing about Christmas for you is being together, why not celebrate it on a day when you are well enough to do so? Enjoy all your favourite festive traditions and spend time with loved ones at home, either before or after the holidays.

– I dressed my drip stand up as a Christmas tree with anything I could lay my hands on.

– Tina, centre visitor, Maggie's Southampton

Decorate your hospital room so you can wake up on the Christmas morning feeling festive.

    Karen decorated her hospital room with a hanging Christmas tree and drew festive pictures on her whiteboard

    On Christmas Day

    8 – The wonderful staff on the ward made Christmas in hospital as good as it could be. I had taken in some lights and a tree, as well as my Christmas jumper and hat!

    – Karen, centre visitor, Maggie's Southampton

    Dress in something festive that makes you feel good. That could be a novelty Christmas jumper, a Santa hat or some tinsel over your hospital gown.

    – Pace yourself, and remember: it’s OK to take a break.

    – Mary Corrigan, Cancer Support Specialist, Maggie’s West London

    Whether you are in hospital for treatment, symptom management or recovery from surgery, it is important to rest plenty and not overdo it. Tell any visitors if you need some quiet time, or ask hospital staff to help close your curtains if you need some privacy.

    10 – It is a special day, but also, it is just a day.

    – Laura, centre visitor, Maggie's Aberdeen

    You don’t need to celebrate if you don’t want to, or if you aren’t well enough.

    11  You don’t have to be happy at Christmas. We know at Maggie’s that living with cancer means that Christmas can be a really difficult time. Make room for those emotions, and don’t put pressure on yourself.

    – Robin Muir, Centre Head at Maggie’s Manchester

    It's ok to be sad, or to have mixed emotions. Be kind to yourself, and if you need support, Maggie's is here with you.

    If someone you love is in hospital

    12  One of my favourite things when I was in hospital was when my partner, Kava, brought along a light-up Christmas tree and some little decorations for my hospital room. That was really sweet.

    – Laura, centre visitor, Maggie's Aberdeen

    If your friend, family member or colleague is in hospital over the holidays, you can help by bringing in decorations, Christmas cards, gifts, festive food and other treats, or by simply asking how best you can support them.

    If your loved one is feeling well enough, you could coordinate phone calls and visits for them, so they can enjoy more moments that really matter.

    Last review: Dec 2023 | Next review: Dec 2024

    If you or someone you love has cancer, we're here

    We're open until Friday 22 December and will reopen on Wednesday 3 January.

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