Coping with Holiday Stress as a Cancer Patient or Family Member

One of the main stressors that people and patients may experience around the holidays is the pressure of expectations. There is gift giving, visiting with family, party planning and so on. For cancer patients in particular, the added stress of the holidays may be a result of addressing questions of diagnosis and treatment. This creates anxiety in an already stressful time of the year.

One of the things that we recommend in the Psychosocial Oncology Department is to think ahead. Try to develop a quick statement in response to questions that may be posed by family members, friends or neighbors you will encounter at gatherings and parties. This practiced, standard reply can decrease much of the worry and discomfort that comes from, in the moment, not knowing what to say, or how to say it.

The holidays tend to bring up past personal or family issues that can be exacerbated by illness. Another way we tell people to deal with this is, if possible, through open communication. While this method calls for candidness, it may also involve setting boundaries and guidelines for what you as a patient feel comfortable speaking about.

Regardless of what difficulties a patient or a family member may face, we offer many services at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center that can help. In our Psychosocial Oncology Department we have social workers and psychologists who are always available and ready to assist patients or family members of those diagnosed with cancer.

Roswell Park’s Pastoral Care Department also has many programs available, including patient remembrance services you and your family can attend. Such an event is a quiet, and special way to create an all-new tradition for your family as a way to honor and remember those you have lost.

You can speak to us directly at Roswell at 1–800–ASK–Roswell Park, email us at, or talk to your primary oncologist for a referral. We are here to help, and wish you a happy holiday season.