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Navigating Cancer Conversations Over the Holidays

Read Time: 2 minutes
: Susanna Fraser, MPH, CCRC, Health Educator

Large family gathered around a table with a turkey and several side dishes

‘Tis the season for holiday gatherings—good food, connecting with family and friends, and inevitably, a few awkward conversations. If you or a loved one is undergoing cancer treatment, it’s easy to worry that time together might be spent talking about it. Keeping a few tips in mind can help the holidays feel as normal and fun as possible.

Don’t be afraid to set boundaries

“It’s fair to tell your loved ones that you don’t want to discuss your disease or treatments during every conversation,” says Huntsman Cancer Institute social worker Samantha Powell, MPA, LCSW.

She suggests being ready with a simple redirect for questions about your health. To turn the topic back to more comfortable subjects, try saying, “Thanks for asking. I’ve decided to focus on being present during the holidays instead of discussing my cancer. How are things with you?”

Ask for help

If you don’t feel comfortable advocating for yourself, Powell recommends asking a trusted friend or family member to share your wishes with others.

Family and friends can be a vital part of your treatment team, and their questions are often motivated by a desire to help. However, that doesn’t mean you have to answer every question. Delegating someone to provide health updates on a blog or social media can help loved ones find accurate information and know how to support you.

Know that the holidays can be hard for everyone

Practicing self-care and awareness is just as important for family and friends as it is for the person with cancer. It’s normal for everyone to feel the pressure of making the holidays meaningful.

If your loved one has cancer, take time to acknowledge your own feelings of grief, anxiety, or hope.

“Sometimes it’s a sense of treating our own anxiety that urges us to step into a caregiver role or check in more often than required,” explains Katie Ovrom, LCSW.

Be mindful of your loved one’s needs, but provide as much privacy as possible, suggests Powell. Remember, they are the same person they have always been, with the same interests they had before their diagnosis.

“Let them take the lead and honor their wishes as best as you can with their safety and wellbeing in mind.”

Talk through specific concerns

Patient & Family Support social workers help people deal with the many emotions and concerns that accompany a cancer diagnosis. If you need additional support over the holidays, please contact your clinic social worker or call 801-213-5699.

Find more support and coping resources.

Cancer touches all of us.