Caregiver Dos and Don’ts: How to Support Loved Ones With Cancer During the Holidays

As a caregiver, you play a special role in the life of your loved one who is suffering from cancer. You’re probably more than willing to help in any way you can, but it’s important to take the right approach, especially during the holidays, which are often a sensitive time.

We spoke with Amy Fair, RN and head of the medical department at Simmons Hanly Conroy, to identify dos and don’ts that caregivers of cancer patients should consider to ensure both have a joyful holiday season.

Do: Help your loved one maintain their self-image.

A cancer diagnosis is life changing, but it shouldn’t define a person. Your loved one may need to pull back and take more time to care for themselves, but depending on their physical condition, it doesn’t mean they can’t approach the holidays in their usual way, whether it’s continuing to host family gatherings, or cooking the honey baked ham, or buying gifts. Convincing your loved one he or she is took sick to participate in the holidays in the way they want can damage their self-image. Make sure your loved one knows he or she can take part in their usual holiday activities, if they feel up to it.

Don’t: Step in to help too much.

There is a fine balance between being helpful and taking away your loved one’s independence. Offer to help, but do so in a way that allows your loved one to feel some sense of control. For example, if your mother hosted holiday dinner at her home for the past thirty years, and she is now suffering from cancer, you may think it’s helpful to move the gathering to a different location. To your mother, it may be important that it remains in her home. Talk to your loved one and decide what the compromise may be. For example, it could be you taking the lead on the hosting duties while still having the gathering at your mother’s home.

Do: See that your loved one can carry out yearly traditions, if they wish.

Is there a craft fair your mother enjoys shopping at every year? Make arrangements so she can still go without overexerting herself. Keeping these important traditions will give your loved one a greater sense of normalcy and help him or her escape the idea that cancer defines them. Traditions are also a great way to spend extra time with your loved one.

Don’t: Forget to celebrate past memories. 

Happy times can be a source of comfort for your loved one, especially during the holidays. Take the time to celebrate memories. For example, hang old photos of you with your loved one on string and use them as conversation starters. Sit down with your loved one and go through old photos as they tell stories about the memories behind the images. Let him or her reminisce about more carefree times.

Do: Create new memories together.

The holidays are the perfect time to create new, joyful memories together. Not only that, it’s also the perfect time to record those memories. Almost everyone has access to a cell phone with a camera. First, ask your loved one if he or she is open to being on camera. If they agree, use your camera to capture moments that celebrate your loved one’s life. One idea is to record your loved one (or encourage them to record themselves) making “Day in the Life” videos (this is often something we encourage our mesothelioma lawsuit clients to do). There is no better time than the holidays to capture the moments that represent family and love. Here are some other video prompt ideas to try:

  • What are your favorite things?
  • What strengths are you most proud of?
  • Share a memory that has always made you laugh.
  • What are your three favorite memories from the past?
  • Year-end holiday video for a distant relative or friend
  • Messages for specific loved ones
  • What is your favorite holiday memory?
  • What was your favorite trip/vacation?
  • What are you most thankful for?
  • What are you most proud of?

Don’t: Avoid letting your loved one indulge (in moderation).

Home-cooked recipes and food is one of the best parts about the holidays. Yes, it’s important for your loved one to eat healthy and follow a nutrition plan, but it doesn’t mean they can’t indulge in their favorite holiday treats once in awhile. Many families have recipes that loved ones have cooked or baked for years – bring those recipes to the forefront again this year. Ask your loved one to teach you how to cook it, or to share the secret family recipe with a member of the younger generation in your family.

Do: Consider this example from a real cancer patient.

One of Simmons Hanly Conroy’s clients is a man recently diagnosed with mesothelioma. For years, he would get up at 5 a.m. to have doughnuts with his friends. After his cancer diagnosis, his wife grew concerned that he should not be waking so early and should instead be getting his rest. She urged him to stop going to get doughnuts.

He disagreed. Instead, the two compromised on a plan. He now wakes up early three mornings a week to get doughnuts with his friends, and uses the other two days to get extra sleep. This compromise shows that he can still maintain some of the routines and traditions he enjoys, and his wife can feel comfortable knowing he is getting more rest.

Are you caring for a loved one with mesothelioma? We are here for you. Find helpful support information, including information on how to file a mesothelioma lawsuit, here.

Simmons Support Team
Simmons Hanly ConroyWritten by:

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The Simmons Hanly Conroy Editorial Team consists of journalists, writers and editors who strive to deliver accurate and useful information to families needing legal help. Our team works alongside the firm's attorneys and partners, as well as with medical professionals and other specialists, to keep all information relevant and helpful.