Coping with cancer at Christmas

Monday 27 November 2023

Robyn Volkers, Centre Head at Maggie's Royal Free, shares tips on managing the holidays when you have cancer, and how Maggie's can help.

The holiday season is drawing near. For many of you, this is something to look forward to. For others, it can be a stressful or lonely time as you face uncertainty.

You may have symptoms or side effects to manage, or you may be facing the loss of someone close to you or uncertainty about your future, all while trying to put on a brave face for others around you.

We are here with you and your family

Maggie's is here to help. Visit, email or call your nearest centre and talk to one of our cancer support specialists.

If you have questions or want to talk things over in the run-up to the holidays, we're open until Friday 22 December and will reopen on Wednesday 3 January.

If you're finding things difficult and need someone to talk to over the holidays, please call the Samaritans. They are available by phone 24 hours a day, every day of the year. You can also contact them by email or text.

Our tips for the holidays

Whether you're having guests at home, spending time away, isolating or choosing to avoid Christmas altogether, the following tips and a bit of planning will help you gain more control of some of the events happening around you and get some space when you need it, allowing you to have a more enjoyable time.

Practical matters

If you're on treatment

Remember, many clinics and services shut down over the holidays. Find out who you should call if you feel unwell, and get their contact details before the holidays start.

Check your medications and medical equipment, oxygen, dressings etc and make sure you have enough for the holiday period.  

Going away?

If you're travelling away from home, be prepared – take some extra medications with you and a list of the medications you usually take, in case your return is delayed for some reason. 

It can also be helpful to have a summary of your notes from your doctor, just in case you need to see another doctor while you're away.

If you're in the UK, find out if you need to register as a temporary resident to be seen by your host's GP.


This winter will be harder than ever for people and families facing the double strain of cancer and the cost-of-living crisis.

Christmas can also be very expensive time of year, and your income or ability to work may have been reduced due to cancer.

Find out more about grants and benefits available or get in touch with your nearest Maggie’s centre and speak to one of our benefits advisors.

Some organisations give freebies, discounts and offers to people with cancer (and their families). Find out more about free gifts and experiences.

Managing symptoms and side effects


Christmas food can be very rich and you may not feel up to eating it – a quiet word with your host in advance may help avoid any embarrassment at the table.

Ask for a smaller portion if you need one, and let your host know about any dietary restrictions, any difficulties with eating, or if your food needs to be a certain consistency.

If you are affected by nausea (feeling sick), you may need to change when you take your anti-sickness medication to fit around mealtimes, which could be different than usual.


With a change in routine, it can be difficult to remember to take your medicine. You could set an alarm to remind you to take it.

A cushion on your lap can help protect you from overenthusiastic hugs and leaps from young children or pets.

Balance activity with rest

Let your hosts or guests know in advance that you may need a rest or somewhere to sit.

If away from home, arrange for a quiet space to retreat to if you need to.

Try to avoid overdoing it. If you have a busy day, plan some quiet time too, and perhaps a quieter day the next day.

Accept help if you can

When you're used to doing things for yourself, it can be difficult to let others help – try to accept offers of help and delegate where you can.

Tell people how you're feeling

Some symptoms may not be visible, and people may not be aware of how unwell you are feeling – have a quiet word in advance with your host or guests, and make plans that would allow you to sit out or lie down for a while if you don’t feel up to joining in.

Boosting self-confidence

Changes to your appearance as a result of cancer or treatment may be making you feel less confident about meeting others, particularly those you haven’t seen recently.

At Maggie's, we hold skincare and makeup workshops with Look Good Feel Better to help you manage the visible side effects of cancer treatment, and in turn, boost your confidence and wellbeing. These sessions are held online and in the centre – contact your nearest Maggie’s to find out more. There are also lots of video tutorials on the Look Good Feel Better website.

We also run workshops on Managing hair loss. Contact your nearest Maggie's centre to find out more.

Managing emotions

Difficult conversations

Meeting people you haven't seen for a while can bring up questions you may find difficult or that you don't want to answer.

Having a few 'stock answers' for questions can help you feel more confident in managing the conversation.

For example, if someone asks you how you are, but you don’t want to go into depth about how you are feeling, perhaps say:

‘I haven’t felt so well lately but I am going to try to forget about it for today’, or

'Thank you, that’s kind of you to ask. I have been finding things very difficult but today is a day to focus on the family. How are you?’

Dealing with a different Christmas

You may find you feel very emotional, particularly if Christmas is very different this year. Try to think of ways to preserve or adapt family traditions that works around your situation.

If you want to avoid Christmas completely, plan ahead to think of some activities and a few treats to keep yourself occupied with. If you need a few quiet minutes, you could try some of our relaxation and breathing exercises.

Managing loss

Christmas is a time when memories of those we have lost can be especially difficult. You may also feel guilty that you are feeling sad when everyone else seems to be enjoying themselves.

It can help to take some time in the day to do something special in the name of the person who can't be with you. This could be the start of a new family tradition, or perhaps just some quiet time and space on your own.

If your family is apart for Christmas, you might choose to all do something at the same time wherever you are.

Avoid the pressure of a perfect Christmas

Try not to feel pressured to have a 'perfect' Christmas, or to do what others expect or want when you don’t feel up to it. Be honest with others and yourself about what you can manage.

For more tips on coping at Christmas with cancer, see our news article: Cancer and the cost of Christmas.

However you spend the holiday season, on behalf of everyone at Maggie's, we wish you and your family the very best.

Last review: Nov 2023 | Next review: Nov 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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