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How to crack Christmas with cancer

The Bloodwise logo. Bloodwise appears in black text against a white background
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Updated 19 Jun 2018

Preparing for Christmas can be exhausting at the best of times, but if you’re experiencing fatigue and other symptoms or side effects of blood cancer, it can feel anything but festive. We asked our very own Christmas crackers, the Bloodwise ambassadors, for their top tips on coping with (and enjoying!) Christmas, wherever you’re celebrating it.

Christmas at home

If some or all of the organisation falls to you at Christmas, don’t worry – our ambassadors can suggest plenty of things you can do to take the pressure off!

Give yourself a break

One way to manage the stress of preparing for the festivities is to pace yourself and make sure you allow plenty of time to rest. Louise recommends that if you tire easily, try breaking tasks down into manageable chunks. She also suggests that if people offer to help, ‘…bite their hands off. If some offer to help prepare dinner you can all have a chinwag at the same time.’

Anna copes by getting organised and prepares as much as possible in advance. She uses a list of everything that needs to be done in December, plus reminders on her smart phone, to beat the effects of chemo brain.

Of course you always know it’s the run-up to Christmas when suddenly, everyone wants to get together before the end of the year! Erica’s advice on managing people’s expectations is to only book social engagements every other day, giving you time to rest in between.

Do it your way

If you’re the chief cook on Christmas day, Vivien suggests that you try to do as much preparation as you can in advance, but above all, don’t worry about the timing: ‘As long as the food arrives on the table, who cares if it’s at one o’clock or half past two?’ Louise agrees: ‘My son-in-law once said that Christmas dinner is a roast dinner, just bigger. Nobody should get stressed over one meal.’

Emma advises that even if there’s the usual pressure for all the family to get together on the day, you should make sure you spend Christmas the way you want to. People will understand.

Lisa was told her son Hugo might need to be in hospital over Christmas, so she made no definite plans. ‘We spent all day in our PJs without the rush or stress of cooking and entertaining. We played and spent real quality time with Hugo and Henry. It ended up being such a special day.’

Your health comes first

Most important of all, make your health the priority. Make sure that your family and friends know if you need to be careful about what you eat and exposure to winter bugs. And if you do get a temperature or just don’t feel well, contact your healthcare team. As Emma says, ‘Even if hospital is the last place you want to be when it's the build up to Christmas, the sooner you get there, the sooner they can have you out again!’

Christmas in hospital

It’s really bad luck if you have to be in hospital over the festive period, but our ambassadors have advice on things you can do to make things a little bit more Christmassy.

Find the feeling

Make sure you have some of your own things around you to make your hospital bay or room feel more homely, and bring in a mini Christmas tree and decorations – staff are usually happy to help put them up. Emma suggests creating a playlist of your top seasonal songs or playing your favourite Christmas films on a portable DVD or tablet. When Melody’s son Andrew was in hospital over Christmas, the family put his stocking up and left a mince pie and glass of sherry for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph, just as they would have done at home.

Christmas with a difference

If you can’t be with loved ones, Jane recommends using Skype or FaceTime to chat, or even play a board game. And if you can’t celebrate Christmas properly on the day, celebrate it when you get home – Christmas dinner tastes just as good in January. As Donna says, ‘Who said Christmas has to be in December? We had one in April as it was the first opportunity for Emily to leave hospital.’

Finally, if you have lost a loved one and feel that you can’t do Christmas the way you used to, try doing it differently. Mix some old traditions with some new ones. Donna puts it like this: ‘Your grief isn't any easier if you stop yourself having some nice things in life. So have an extra mince pie and a G&T.’

Thanks to everyone who took the time to contribute and share their experience and wisdom. For more ideas and personal stories about Christmas with blood cancer, read Christmas blogs from our ambassadors:

Merry Christmas!

We hope that you find these tips helpful over the festive season. Please note that these are the personal opinions of the people who have contributed to this article, and this blog is not a substitute for medical advice.

Speak to your healthcare team if you’re struggling. The Bloodwise Support Line is open Monday to Friday 10-4 over the festive period (except bank holidays) on 0808 2080 888, or you can message us .The Samaritans are open throughout the Christmas period, you can call them on 116 123.