Coping With the Holidays During COVID-19 and Cancer

From the Editor's Desk
November 24, 2020
Lidia Schapira, MD, FASCO

As we prepare for the holidays this year, we face a new challenge that forces us to rethink plans and possibly even cancel them. The COVID-19 pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down, and we have reached new daily highs of reported infections. For people living with cancer and their loved ones, the risk of getting ill cannot be ignored.

The virus spreads most uncontrollably between people who gather indoors, in close quarters, when they are talking or laughing or eating without wearing masks. One of the most obvious ways to slow the spread will be for as many people as possible to stay home this holiday season. The idea of sacrificing 1 more tradition may feel sad and unfair, but gathering at such seasonal times as Thanksgiving and Christmas this year could endanger the health of those we love and want to protect.

So how can people prepare for the holidays this year? Start by checking the local COVID-19 facts and guidelines for your area, as they vary by state, county, and even by city. For those who like to make accurate risk predictions, there are available calculators. Most of us don’t need precise risk estimations to know the safest approach while the pandemic continues is to skip the traditional indoor gathering.

If you still plan to go ahead with gathering with loved ones, start thinking now about the travel arrangements and accommodations for guests and keep the gathering small and brief (less than an hour and a half). If your gathering includes people who are not in your household, eat outside and stay socially distant. Better still, consider having a dinner with only people who live in your household.

Skipping the traditional holiday celebration may trigger sadness and disappointment. But instead of thinking about what or who might be missing from your holiday table, what tradition wasn't kept, or what might be different about this year's holiday season from years past, focus on what you have around you that you can celebrate and that gives you joy. I’ve heard about many creative and clever ways to make this year’s holiday experience more positive, such as cooking food and dropping it off at a friend’s, baking pies over video chat, and eating the same meal across different tables and time zones.

Our family will do without the indoor feast this year. I remain hopeful that 2021 will see the end of the pandemic and allow us to safely restore beloved traditions.

I extend my best wishes for a safe holiday season for us all.

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