Christmas for cancer patients difficult as helpline hits holiday spike

THE Cancer Council Victoria helpline receives a spike in calls over the holidays from people affected by cancer.

Helpline manager Katherine Lane said it was a difficult time for people who had experienced major change or loss.

“We speak to patients who are fearful that this may be their last Christmas,” Ms Lane said.

“Others may be worried that their feelings and emotions may ruin the celebrations for others, or be experiencing frustrating delays in appointments, treatments and results over this period.”

Ms Lane said the helpline also heard from people finding it difficult to cope with Christmas without a loved one.

“This can bring forward overwhelming feelings of loss and grief.” 

Senior cancer nurse Carole Arbuckle said the helpline received 22,000 contacts a year, including phone calls and emails.

“Christmas is heavily laden with expectation and people often try to push themselves through,” Ms Arbuckle said.

She said families should take into account the limitations of people suffering from cancer, such as loss of taste, nausea and fatigue.

Ms Arbuckle said people who had lost a loved one also needed extra support.

“Just listen and allow them to get through situation while grieving. And people need to recognise when they’re grieving and not put too much pressure on themselves.

“Sadness is an important emotion. Honour yourself and say this is how the day is for me.”

She also said it was important for grieving children to celebrate Christmas in any way they wanted to, including the excitement and anticipation of the season.

“Tell them ‘it’s OK to be you’. There are different ways to celebrate grief.”

Ms Lane said people should have an exit plan for when a gathering was overwhelming, avoid large numbers of visitors and long car trips and keep meals simple.

“If your usual Christmas rituals or traditions are too painful, consider replacing them with a new ritual or tradition that is special to you.

“For example, you can light a candle in honour of a special person and place it with a photo or flowers on the table.”

The Cancer Council Victoria helpline is available on 131 120 but will be closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. It will be available between 9am and 3pm on December 27, 30 and 31. The website, cancerconnections.com.au, also allows people to chat with people in a similar situation.

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