Close this search box.



Ask the Expert: How to Manage Holiday Stress as a Cancer Patient

The holidays are sometimes said to be “the most wonderful time of the year.” However, it sometimes falls short of that claim, and it can be especially stressful for people with cancer. Here are a couple of key factors why some patients feel this stress.

“Patients may feel pressured, either self-imposed or by family, friends or society in general to feel the holiday cheer and to keep up with all their usual holiday traditions,” Nancy Yeisley, Oncology Social Worker at the Nassif Community Cancer Center, said. “Let’s consider that the holidays can be exhausting with all the shopping, baking, decorating, holiday gatherings and meal planning. Plus, the holidays can be expensive with gift buying, travel and increased cost of groceries.”

Cancer patients are already tired, and this fatigue is different than the usual fatigue people feel. It is more intense and ongoing and isn’t solved by getting some extra sleep or resting a little more.

“Cancer patients are already dealing with extra distress whether it be emotional, spiritual and/or psychosocial. It can be overwhelming to think about trying to keep up the pace the holiday season requires of people. Let’s also consider the staggering statistics on the financial burden cancer treatment has on families from both the cost of the medical care as well as the potential loss of income.”

On top of already having to fight cancer, the pandemic has brought an increased financial burden to all families.

“There are so many people struggling with the cost of groceries, putting gas in their cars and keeping a roof over their heads. Iowa has also been hit by the derecho during the pandemic and that has amplified the housing shortage and raised the cost of housing because of the increased demand.”

Oncology social workers are key members of the care team to help patients and families adjust to the change cancer has brought in their lives.

“We see every new patient when they are first diagnosed and follow along during treatment. I see our role as complimenting the medical care they are receiving by ensuring we are addressing what patients and families need as people, in addition to providing excellent medical care. We help provide that extra support and coordination of care that research has proven improves outcomes for patients.”

Podcast Episode: Cancer and Self-Care

Nancy Yeisley, MSW, LISW, OSW-C, oncology social worker at the Nassif Community Cancer Center, joins Dr. Arnold to discuss the importance of self-care for patients and caregivers when dealing with a cancer diagnosis and the resources provided at the Community Cancer Center.



Oncology social workers often talk to patients about finding a balance in participating in things they want to do and bring them joy while also learning to pace themselves to not over-do or push themselves too hard. This certainly comes into play when facilitating conversations about holiday stress for the reasons mentioned above.

“For example, working on how to decline invitations or accepting invitations on their terms. One approach is attending a holiday family gathering but setting the expectation ‘I will attend if I feel up to it that day. However, I may not stay the whole time.’ We also talk with patients and their families about prioritizing their most meaningful holiday traditions and finding ways to do a smaller version of a particularly big, exhausting tradition.”

St. Luke’s oncology social workers are here for all aspects of your health and can be crucial supporters during the holiday season. 

“Whether you’re facing cancer or other serious health problems, it is the idea of being active in not just your physical wellbeing, but your emotional, your spiritual wellbeing, all of it. We very much take that approach at the Nassif Community Cancer Center. We want to help you in every aspect of your life to be as well as you can be.”

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, our oncology social workers are here to support you and your family from diagnosis, throughout treatment and beyond. To learn more or schedule a time to meet with one of our social workers, call (319) 558-4876.

Nancy Yeisley, MSW, LISW, OSW-C, is an oncology social worker at the Nassif Community Cancer Center. Nancy is one of only four social workers in the state of Iowa to hold the Oncology Social Worker – Certified (OSW-C) credential


Anti-Cancer Recipes