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Dear Iris: Missing Out

Dear Iris,

Recently, I was admitted to the hospital with some complicated side effects. Because of this, I wasn’t able to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I miss them so much and I’ve always looked forward to this time of year. It doesn’t seem like I'm going to be able to participate in the holidays or spend time with them at all during the upcoming holidays either. They want to help but I’m not sure what to even suggest.


Dear C,

Holidays can bring joy for many but also can be discouraging when things don’t go as planned. When you’re receiving cancer treatment, the truth is you may have to navigate this season differently, either because of side effects or the potential of them.

I have a few ideas that may be helpful to you as you move through the holidays differently this year.

Bring the Holidays to You

If you’re able to, decorate your home, drink some hot cocoa, watch holiday movies, or have a few family members or friends over to spend time with or exchange gifts.

Use Technology to Your Advantage

With technology, you can still be part of all the festivities. You can use Zoom or FaceTime to open presents together or even propose conversation-based activities like question prompts that everyone can take turns answering, making connecting with a group virtually easier.

Be Prepared for the Unexpected

If you are traveling, even a short distance, pack a bag with some extra clothes, your favorite blanket, medications, and other essentials so you can be as prepared as possible if side effects show up.

Stay in the Moment

Things might not be going as planned but connecting with others during the holiday can occur, at your pace and your willingness. It's okay to say no — you know your body and what it needs.

If your loved ones are asking you, “How can I help?” consider one, or more, responses from this list:

Be Present

A phone call or message, even if it seems simple, can go a long way. "Happy Holidays” or letting me know you’re thinking of me means a lot.

Follow My Lead

I know it may be difficult to understand what I’m going through right now, so try to follow my lead and respect what I say I need. I don’t always know what to expect ahead of time, but I’ll try to be open when I do need help, support, or space.

Bring the Holidays to Me  

Traditions and activities we’ve always done may be difficult for me this year. I know this is upsetting, but there are still ways I’d love to be involved. If you can spend time with me where I am it would be great. I'd love to still be involved as much as I can be. 

Offer to Help with Errands

Holidays can be stressful, even without having cancer. Grocery shopping, setting up a meal train, cleaning, or running other errands get things off my list so I don’t have to think about them. This goes a long way during this extra busy season.

The holidays can be challenging to navigate when receiving cancer treatment, but hopefully, a few of these tips will help you and your loved ones enjoy the season, on your own terms.

Missed last week? Dear Iris: Betrayed

Anju Chowattukunnel, BSN, RN, OCN

Senior Director of Oncology Nursing

Iris Oncology

Anju Chowattukunnel has been an oncology nurse for over ten years. She has cared for varying oncology populations including adults, end-of-life, and pediatric oncology. Aside from her family, being an oncology nurse is her passion, and she hopes to provide love and care to all her patients from all walks of life.

This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.