How special occasions can be challenging when you have cancer – and advice and tips to help you deal with big events

Getting together with family or friends for a special occasion or a big event can be more difficult when you have cancer.

You may be dealing with pain, tiredness, or the side effects of treatment – but at the same time you might feel under pressure to keep up appearances and look as if you’re having a good time.

This guide takes a look at some of the challenges people with cancer can face during special occasions, and some things you can do help make life easier and more enjoyable.

In this guide:

Why can special occasions be a challenge?Planning ahead  |  Eating and special occasionsDealing with fatigueKeeping up with your medicationDealing with your feelingsBeing in hospital during special occasions

Why can special occasions be a challenge?

When you have cancer, it’s very common to experience fatigue. This can make it difficult to ‘keep up’ with everyone else at a special occasion.

You may also be dealing with the side effects of treatment, such as sickness (nausea), stomach problems or mouth soreness, which may mean you don’t feel like eating much, and which can make it feel harder to join in.

Special occasions and big events can also make it more difficult to keep up with important routines, including resting, sleeping and taking your medication.

You might also be having challenging emotions and thoughts, and special occasions can sometimes make this feel worse.

The good news is, there are steps you can take to help take control, ease the pressure and make things a bit more enjoyable.

Planning ahead

It can be helpful to plan ahead by talking to family and friends before the event. Explain how you are feeling, and how you would like to celebrate the occasion.

Ease the pressure

Let them know you may need to take some time out or leave early. They can make any necessary arrangements and it will help to reduce any pressure you may feel on the day. You might want to make things simpler and more low-key for now.

Of course, it may be that you don’t want to think about your cancer, and you want to try and forget about it for a while. Remember, it’s all about what works best for you.

Eating and special occasions

Special occasions such as family parties and big seasonal events like Christmas often involve a lot of food and drink. If you’re suffering from symptoms such as nausea, issues with taste, or stomach problems, this can be a real challenge.

Take control

Buffet style meals are the easiest, as you can choose what you want to eat and control the amount.

If it’s a sit-down dinner such as a Christmas lunch, you could try talking to the host beforehand and either arranging to have a smaller portion, or asking for the meal to come out in separate serving dishes. That way you can help yourself to whatever you feel like.

If you really don’t feel able to join in, take some snacks with you so you can give yourself a boost when you do feel like something. The Live Better With community recommend high energy foods, such as energy bars.

Try something different

Don’t be afraid to break with normal traditions. Try talking to your friends or family about cooking a meal which suits your dietary needs. There are special recipe books designed for people with cancer, so you could try looking through one together and doing something new.

If you normally do the cooking but it feels like too much at the moment, or if cooking makes your nausea worse, ask somebody else to do it this time. Or suggest the whole family has a treat and goes out for dinner!


When it comes to alcohol, it may be that you don’t feel like drinking at the moment. But if you do fancy a tipple, just make sure you check with your medical team first.

Dealing with fatigue

When you have cancer, it’s very common to suffer from fatigue (severe tiredness) This may mean you don’t feel like you have enough energy to join in with all of the festivities. Special occasions can be exhausting, and can also interfere with your normal resting and sleeping times.

Keep to a routine

Your body needs time to rest and recover, so you should try and stick to as much of a routine as possible. It can help to schedule in a regular rest break in the morning and the afternoon, and make sure you go to bed at a reasonable hour.

A 15-20 minute power nap has been shown to help restore alertness and improve physical performance, and can be a useful way to help combat the effects of sleep deprivation.

Talking to people ahead of time and letting them know your plans can take the pressure off.

Decide what’s most important to you

The important thing is to pace yourself, and be flexible. Listen to your body and rest when you need to.

If there are lots of activities planned as part of your special occasion, don’t feel like you have to do everything.

Choose the things that are most important to you and that you most enjoy, such as dinner with the family, and then have a rest break while they are doing something else.

You can see the full Live Better With guide to cancer fatigue here.


Keeping up with your medication

It’s important to make sure you keep track of your medication and any appointments, particularly during the holiday season.

Stock up on supplies

Make sure you have enough medication on hand to cover you during the holidays. Think about whether you’re likely to need any extra medicine. For example, if there’s going to be a lot of eating involved you may want to order some extra anti-nausea medication.

Be prepared

You should also make a note of when your nearest medical clinic is open over the holidays, and who will be available should you need any help.

If you have any treatments scheduled during a special occasion, you may be able to adjust the timings – talk to your medical team ahead of time.

Dealing with your feelings

Having cancer can be emotionally challenging, and special occasions can make it seem harder. They often come with a host of expectations. It can sometimes be difficult to be around people who are having a good time when you don’t feel much like celebrating.

The fact that you’re not feeling happy when you’re supposed to be, or that you can’t do what you did the same time last year, can make any feelings of guilt, sadness and anxiety feel worse.

Feeling differently about yourself

You may be dealing with bodily changes as a result of surgery or treatment, such as a hair loss, a change in weight, or bowel and bladder issues. These can also make you feel less confident in company.

If you’re worried about hair loss, there are a range of different headwear options you could try. Choosing a pretty headscarf or turban, a hat or a wig could make you feel more comfortable and give you a boost. If your complexion is feeling lacklustre, using natural cosmetics can help to boost the areas you feel more positive about.

Read the Live Better With guide to feeling confident with cancer here.

Taking some time out

All those festivities can take their toll, not just physically but also emotionally. If you’re finding being surrounded by party-goers a bit too much, take yourself off to a quiet place and have a break.

Taking some home comforts and things to keep you occupied at these moments can be helpful. A  tablet or iPad can be a great way of relaxing and helping to take your mind off things.

If you’re finding it difficult to cope, talk to someone you trust. Support groups,  online forums and the Live Better With community can also be a great source of advice.

“Talk with someone you trust and express your feelings. It’s hard to start talking, but so, so much better when you do.”  Linda, Live Better With community member

Being in hospital during special occasions

If you have to spend time in hospital during a special occasion, it can be particularly disappointing. However, there are some things you can do to help make your time there a little bit brighter.

Add a bit of sparkle

If you’re in hospital over a holiday period, such as Christmas or another seasonal celebration, you could try decorating the area around your bed with some tinsel and family photos, for a bit of festive cheer. You might try adding a mini faux Christmas tree, or an electric menorah or kinara. If it’s your birthday, ask family and friends to bring in your cards, and perhaps some board games, if you feel up to it.

You could also ask your medical team if friends and family can bring in some festive treats, to make you feel more at home.

Get connected

Taking your iPad, kindle, smartphone or tablet into hospital can also help you to keep yourself entertained by reading, watching movies or surfing the internet. The Live Better With community recommend using a tablet cushion to keep your device comfortably in place, so you can relax without having to hold on to it for long periods.

Another great thing about modern technology is that you can keep in touch with people more easily. Arrange a video chat with your loved ones to help you feel more connected.

Share your stories and tips

Have you had to deal with special occasions, celebrations or big events while having cancer treatment? What helped you to cope and made life better for you? We’d love to hear about your stories and tips, as they could help other people like you. Share your tips with the Live Better With cancer community here.

Find more Live Better With Guides to coping with cancer symptoms and side effects here.