How to help patients enjoy Christmas during cancer treatment

Cancer treatment takes a physical toll on patients, leaving many with fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and difficulties eating and drinking.

This is hard at any time of the year, but particularly over the Christmas period.

While they might want to join their family and friends with the festivities or enjoy a Christmas like they’re used to, feeling so physically unwell can throw their plans into disarray.

If you want to help a loved one who is going through chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment throughout December, here are some ways you can still give them a Christmas they can enjoy.

Watch lots of Christmas movies

One of the most common side effects of cancer treatment is fatigue, so do not expect your loved one to be up to much over the festive period.

Instead of going to parties, family gatherings, carol concerts or Christmas markets, you can join them in watching lots of festive films on TV.

This will allow them to still feel involved in seasonal activities while also being able to catch up on much-needed rest.

They can feel part of the festivities without having to leave their living room, and by keeping them company, they can avoid feelings of loneliness that often arise at Christmas.

Think carefully about food

Although most people love all the foods and treats they can indulge in at Christmas, eating can be very difficult for people who are undergoing cancer treatment.

They might have a sore mouth if they have had radiotherapy to their head or neck, which can make it feel as though their mouth is burned or very dry. They might also have mouth ulcers, or discomfort when trying to eat or swallow.

In these cases, it is important to avoid spicy or salty foods, as these can make the pain worse.

At the same time, they might have a reduced sense of taste or their appetite may have disappeared.

Many people feel nauseous after treatment, vomit or have diarrhoea or constipation, in which case they will not want to eat all the rich foods they would have normally loved at this time of the year.

If your loved one is suffering with their eating, try to find something they can stomach or find comfortable to swallow. This might mean drinking instead of eating, having five or six smaller meals instead of big ones, or only nibbling on snacks.

Give them a small taste of their favourite Christmas foods on the days they are feeling better so they do not feel left out, but keep their diet plain and simple the rest of the time.

Go for festive walks

They might not have the energy for high-octane Christmas activities, but it is still important they do some exercise, as this can improve their appetite and boost their energy levels.

Taking small walks with them will not only help them feel better, but it can make them feel festive looking at the Christmas lights or wrapping up warm against the chill.

You could even give them cosy socks, heated gloves or fleece hats that will help them remain comfortable even if it is freezing cold outside.

Limit visiting times

Visitors love to pop in over Christmas, especially if they want to send their best wishes to the patient.

However, it can be very tiring having lots of people around, particularly if they feel like they should be hosting their friends and family over the season.

That is why it is a good idea to remind loved ones they should keep their visits short and sweet. They should also not expect to be served upon or entertained while they are there.

Those who do visit should also be reminded of appropriate gifts to bring, instead of alcohol, chocolates, or flowers, which can carry fungal spores that are dangerous for those with a suppressed immune system.

Some options are cosy clothes or blankets; stress relievers, such as eye masks or scented pillows; audio books; or a basket with items such as scent-free skin creams and lip balms, magazines, tea or candles.

Although having a conveyor belt of guests is tiring, it can remind cancer patients of how much they are loved. It can also make them feel more involved in Christmas festivities, as long as they are given enough time to rest before and afterwards too.

This Christmas might not be quite like their usual ones, but by creating some pleasant moments each day, you are helping them get through the difficult season and, ultimately, aiding their recovery in the long-term.