In December 2010, I laid in bed while elves decorated my house for Christmas.
That might sound like a dream come true, right? We all struggle to juggle our typical busy schedules plus the demands of the holiday season.
But the year I battled cancer, spending late-night hours wrapping gifts and baking cookies wasn’t an option. I couldn’t even care for my family, so there was no way I could prepare for the holidays on my own. Thankfully, my elves—my amazing friends—knew I needed help, and they showed up to support our family.
If you have a friend fighting cancer this Christmas, you may wonder how to support her, especially in the midst of your own busy schedule. I’ve got a few suggestions that will hopefully shed light on your friend’s needs and ways you can help.
1. Help your friend with holiday tasks.
Depending on her treatment schedule and energy level, your friend might need just a little help or an entire sleigh of elves to pull her through. Try offering to help in one of these ways and see if she takes you up on it!
- Offer to decorate her house for Christmas.
Ask your friend if there are any decorations that they want to do as a family. Maybe they love to put the ornaments on the tree or hang the stockings, but you could put up everything else. Tell her you’ll be back after Christmas to put the decorations away, and then follow through when the time comes!
- Offer to help with her Christmas shopping.
Let your friend know which stores you’re hitting this week and ask if she needs anything there. Or you could pick your friend up and take her with you. She can run as many errands as she feels up to and then sit in the car while you finish. This gives you the added benefit of having time with your friend while you shop!
- Give her a hand with the gift-wrapping.
You could offer to pick up gifts to wrap at your house, or you could bring over your wrapping paper, a movie, and hot cocoa, and work together to get the job done. Either way, make sure you let her write the names on the tags. Her family will want to see her handwriting on Christmas morning, not yours.
2. Understand your friend’s mixed emotions
Having cancer during the holidays is a bummer. Your friend’s Christmas may be tainted by her treatment schedule, financial stress, difficult emotions, and the inability to travel or keep her typical family traditions.
When I had cancer, I was devastated each time my health issues kept me from being present with my family for holiday events. I was terrified that I might not have many more Christmas seasons with them and desperately wanted to make every moment special. For years after cancer, the fear of recurrence and my uncertain future complicated my emotions around the holidays. I’d pack up the Christmas decorations each January and beg God to let me be the one to open them the next year.
Depending on your friend’s situation and prognosis, she may not be dwelling on these thoughts and fears. But her emotions surrounding the holiday season might be different than they were before cancer. Here’s how you can help:
- Ask open-ended questions.
Say something like, “How does Christmas feel for you this year?” or “Is your health situation changing the way you experience the holidays?”
- Listen to her answer.
She may give you a chipper “I’m fine!” and move on, and that’s okay. Follow her lead—she may be feeling positive and enjoying the season, or you may not be the one she wants to open up to right now. But if she needs to process fear or sadness with you, listen compassionately and let her know you’re supporting her in this struggle.
3. Keep the meals coming.
If your friend is going through treatment or recovering from surgery, I hope there is a meal calendar for her family. But as people get busy and leave town for the holidays, there may be gaps in the schedule. Ask your friend what she needs during the holidays, and rally the elves to provide for them. Here are some ideas:
- Stock her freezer.
Pick one or two meals this month that you could easily double. Package the extra food to go into your friend’s freezer. Recruit a few friends to do the same, and she’ll have a fully-stocked freezer to get her through the holidays.
- Ask friends to chip in for restaurant gift cards.
This will lighten the burden on your friend during the weeks when people are traveling and unable to bring meals.
Here’s one important thing you need to know about helping your friend during the holidays:
You are absolutely not going to be able to do all these things for your friend.
I know you’re busy right now, too. You hardly know how you’re going to get food on your own table, let alone shop, wrap, decorate, and cook for others while providing meaningful emotional support.
Keep in mind that you can’t do everything, and just pick one or two ideas from this. Consider the closeness of your relationship, and pray about how you can serve her. After you’ve done your part, trust the Lord to provide for her other needs. He is always faithful to do so.