Special occasions and celebrations

Special occasions and celebrations can be a time of joy for many people. However, if you have cancer or are caring for someone with cancer, you and those around you may have mixed emotions about celebrating. You may simply not feel like celebrating at all. This is completely normal.

Side effects from treatment, such as nausea, fatigue and pain may also make the usual festivities difficult. 

Get support

Celebrations and special occasions can be challenging for people affected by cancer. Feelings of sadness and loneliness often feel stronger at this time, and you may worry that your emotions will dampen the occasion for others.

Our 13 11 20 Information and Support line regularly receive phone calls from people concerned about how they can make the most of special occasions, and can provide emotional and practical support. 

Contact a cancer nurse

Tips for celebrations

We hope these tips help you make the most of special occasions:

Adjust expectations

  • Discuss with your family and friends what you are able to manage and then make a plan. List things you can do and things your loved ones can do, such as cooking, shopping or travel to appointments. Ask for and accept offers of help.
  • Talk to your treating team. They may be able to adjust your treatment timing so you can celebrate an occasion at a certain time.
  • If you are not able to attend the celebration, ask someone to take a video, or use Skype or Facetime so you can still be part of the festivities.
  • If gift giving is part of your celebrations, consider online shopping or gift vouchers for presents. This can save both time and energy.
  • During the holiday season consider ‘Kris Kringle’. This can help save time and money.

Be gentle with yourself

  • Give yourself permission to celebrate the best way you can. Try to accept any changes and be kind to yourself and your family.
  • Have an exit plan prepared for times when you may find a gathering or party overwhelming. Ask a friend to be your support if you want to leave or need a break.
  • It is normal to experience a range of emotions from sadness to happiness. Do not feel guilty about this.
  • Put your own needs high on the priority list. Remember you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, especially if you’re not feeling up to it.
  • If you are not very good at saying no, ask a friend to do it for you.

Keep it simple

  • Consider not hosting celebrations especially if you have treatment planned during this time. Ask another family member or friend to be the host, book a restaurant or arrange a picnic instead.
  • If you are preparing food, keep it simple or if others are, let them know of any dietary needs. People want their guests to enjoy the celebrations and will be happy to provide meals you can enjoy.
  • Allow for rest times during festivities and let people know that you may need to rest. 

Seek support

  • Talking to someone about your feelings can reduce feelings of sadness and isolation. Family and friends can be a good source of support or consider joining a support group.
  • Call 13 11 20 to speak to a cancer nurse. They can assist you with your concerns and feelings as well as put you in touch with support services. We also recommend that you carry out of hours contacts for your treating doctor and hospital.
  • Join Cancer Council's Online Community and connect with others who are in a similar situation. 
  • Call Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or Griefline (1300 845 745) for additional support for you and your family.

Special Occasions and Celebrations

Download our Special Occasions and Celebrations fact sheet to learn more

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Page last updated:

The information on this webpage was adapted from Special Occasions and Celebrations - Information for people affected by cancer (2017 edition). This webpage was last updated in October 2021.

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