11 ways to support cancer patients and survivors this holiday season
Holiday celebrations look a lot different this year because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It’s a difficult time for everyone, but it can be especially hard for people with weaker immune systems, like our cancer patients and survivors.
“It’s safest for our immunocompromised patients to limit their exposure to people outside of their household, so this holiday season may feel like a very lonely time,” says our infectious diseases and infection control expert Roy Chemaly, M.D.
Show your love and help make the season a little brighter for cancer patients and caregivers with these 11 ideas.
1. Host a virtual holiday party. From white elephant gift exchanges to cookie swaps, all types of holiday parties have turned virtual this year. Instead of canceling your holiday calendar, bring everyone together safely by gathering virtually with an app like Zoom and mail your treats, gifts or party favors to attendees ahead of time to open on camera.
2. Record a holiday greeting. Record a special message for your loved ones that they can watch again and again. Or, become a virtual caroler and enlist a few friends and family members to join you recording yourselves singing holiday classics.
3. Get the flu vaccine. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to get the flu vaccine. A so-called twindemic of flu cases and coronavirus cases can overwhelm health care resources. And the flu can cause serious complications in immunocompromised people, like cancer patients and survivors, so do your part to help protect yourself and others by getting vaccinated this year and every year.
4. Deliver treats. Baking has long been a holiday tradition. Keep the tradition going by preparing individually wrapped servings to drop at the door of friends, family or coworkers. “Wrapping servings separately can help prevent extra hands from touching the food,” says Chemaly. “Also be sure to wear a mask when preparing food for others outside your household and wash your hands thoroughly before and after you prepare them.”
5. Exchange recipes. If your friend looks forward to grandma’s green bean casserole each year or will miss a cousin’s holiday cookies, organize a recipe exchange. That way, everyone can still safely satisfy those cravings. Or, make your favorite dessert, package individual servings and deliver them to your friend or loved one dealing with cancer. Schedule a virtual meal to recreate the experience of your traditional holiday gathering.
6. Shop online. Stores and shopping centers are tempting with their festive decorations and door busting deals. But this year, it’s safer to shop from home. “By avoiding holiday shopping crowds, you reduce your risk contracting the coronavirus, and you can help protect others,” Chemaly says. Instead, log on to your favorite stores’ websites to browse sales and shop for gifts. Online stores make it even easier with the option to gift wrap and mail a present directly to the recipient.
7. Wear a mask. If you do have to be out in public, make sure wear a mask – and keep it pulled up over your nose at all times. “Masks cut down on the spread of respiratory droplets that can be infected with the coronavirus,” Chemaly says. They also act a visual reminder for people to keep their distance, he adds.
8. Donate blood or platelets to MD Anderson Blood Bank. Our cancer patients need about 200 units of red blood cells and 600 units of platelets each day, and we rely on donations from the community. During the holiday season – and especially during the pandemic – MD Anderson’s need for blood and platelet donations is especially great. Start a new holiday tradition and schedule an appointment to donate to MD Anderson Blood Bank with members from your household. If you’ve donated whole blood this fall, you may not be eligible to donate again because your body needs time to replenish itself, but you may be able to donate platelets.
9. Mail holiday cards. Typically, the last few weeks of the year are hectic, and holiday cards may have been cut from your to do list. This year revive the tradition and mail your love to friends and family. A personalized greeting will warm their hearts without the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
10. Make a holiday playlist. Amp up your holiday decoration sightseeing by listening to some holiday tunes. Make a personalized playlist with your family’s favorite holiday music and share it with your loved ones to provide a soundtrack for to get them through this holiday season.
11. Practice social distancing and good hand hygiene. We all miss holiday hugs and gatherings, but this holiday season, one of the best gifts you can give a friend or family member facing cancer is to do your part to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Stay home when possible, avoid gathering in groups, keep your distance when you are around others outside your household, and wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
“These small acts can make a big difference,” Chemaly says. “By each one of us taking these steps, we can hopefully gather in person, sooner.”