The meaning of Christmas…when you’re facing cancer

Christmas can be a mixture of anxiety and joy

Christmas can be a time of anxiety as well as joy

For people living with and beyond cancer, the festive period can be a time of anxiety as well as joy.

Four of our Cancer Coach course participants talk about their cancer experiences at Christmas and how they faced up to a different future with the support and friendship of their fellow group members and guidance from our Cancer Coach volunteer coaches.  

Janie’s story

Janie, Cancer Coach participant

Janie, Cancer Coach participant

“I had my Covid jab on 31 March 2021 and had a mild clot reaction. So I went to see my GP and after tests, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I had an oophorectomy in June, followed by chemo until the end of November. I then had a CT scan and on 18 December my oncologist gave me the all clear. The Covid jab saved my life as I had no symptoms other than the clot reaction to the vaccine

“On this rollercoaster journey there are times when the walls close in and you can feel very alone. Despite being loved and supported by kind family and friends – there is always a bit missing: “If you want to understand me, walk a mile in my shoes.”

“As I struggled to put the new picture of my life post cancer together, subconsciously I knew there was a piece of the jigsaw missing – it was the lack of companionship of people in the same “club”.

“I finally found that piece in Cancer Coach’s peer support course. With that vital addition, I began to make sense of my new life living with cancer.

“I confess that I was a little apprehensive initially, because I didn’t know what to expect. But in week one, I was reassured by our insightful and compassionate coach and soon relaxed, just delighted to find a safe space.

“It was a place where – very often without words – other people in the group just got it – helping me to make sense and come to terms with the adjustments of my new life. It was wonderful. The course offered everyone a safe space to say it all – cry it all – laugh it all and to feel accepted and supported.

“An added bonus was it gave me the opportunity to meet some amazing women who are now lifelong friends. We have regular contact supporting and comforting each other, filling that lonely place, which others just don’t understand. Thank you Cancer Support UK – you’re the missing piece in a lot of people’s life jigsaws.”

Jo’s story

Jo Wilkes, Cancer Coach participant

Jo Wilkes, Cancer Coach participant

“My breast cancer diagnosis came in October 2020, followed very quickly in November by a single mastectomy and lymph node removal. I waited anxiously for the results of my specialist Oncotype test, which would determine whether I needed chemo or not.

“The call with my consultant was originally booked for 21 December. When the results were still not ready, my consultant rebooked it for 31 December. The call came and on the eve of a brand new year, I discovered I would not need chemo.

“Even with all the positive news, it was still incredibly hard to shake the fear, the anxiety and to talk openly about my emotions, without feeling like a burden to my friends and family.

“In 2021 I joined a Cancer Coach peer support group and instantly felt connected to the other group members. The fears of these ladies sounded like mine, they got it and we all spoke with honesty. It was a safe space, but it also empowered us with the joint validation that it was ok to not feel ok sometimes, especially after what we’d all experienced.

“Our coach was incredibly supportive and we worked through useful tasks that helped us to make sense of feelings, while allowing us to look to the future.”

Caroline’s story

Caroline, right with her sons

Caroline, right with her sons

“In October 2020 I was diagnosed with bowel cancer and underwent surgery at Croydon hospital three days before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, my two sons Alex and Jake collected me from hospital and, despite Covid restrictions, we all enjoyed a good Christmas. But unfortunately, the surgery wasn’t enough and in January 2021 I had a permanent stoma fitted, followed by three months of chemotherapy.

“It was a pretty awful year – the chemo was worse than the surgery. I experienced side effects including a significant loss of hearing and terrible neuropathy [numbness and pain, usually in the hands and feet].

“But in December 2021 I spent a week with Alex in Palma and had the best time ever.

“Meeting other cancer survivors in Cancer Coach’s peer support group has been brilliant for me and reinforces my need to live my life.

“Cancer Coach enabled me to meet other people, with their own cancer stories to tell. Sharing and talking about our experiences in an environment where it was ok to do so.  So often you don’t want to feel as though you are burdening someone, as nobody wants to hear about cancer.  Cancer Coach helped us to find tools to move forward after cancer, in a positive way, and to not underestimate what had happened to us.”

Julia’s story

Julia, centre, Cancer Coach participant

Julia, centre, Cancer Coach participant

“I was going through my second round of chemo the week before Christmas and felt extremely fortunate to be able to access our fabulous NHS and treatments. I felt ecstatic to be alive and able to enjoy Christmas with my family. I continue to fizz with a positive attitude to my new life as it is now – it’s never the same as it was before.

“No one warns you that you won’t feel like the same person, mentally and physically, after your cancer diagnosis and treatments. Joining the Cancer Coach sessions really helped me to acknowledge and accept the ‘new me’. The methods we practiced each week were designed to help manage feelings of worry and grief, as well as confidence and low mood, all in a safe and supportive environment. It was so good to connect with others who had similar diagnosis and experiences and to discuss our successes when using the exercises. I am so glad I took part.”


About Cancer Coach

The Cancer Coach programme is available to anyone previously diagnosed with a stage 3 or below cancer and who has now completed their physical cancer treatment and is experiencing low mood, anxiety, worry, and who doesn’t know how to move forward in their recovery. The course takes participants through a series of weekly facilitated group sessions, run for a six-week period over the telephone or online video. Participants benefit from the peer support of the sessions, as well as learning tools and techniques for improving emotional wellbeing, which can help them on their recovery journey. The course is free, completely confidential and accessible from the comfort and privacy of home. If you’ve completed cancer treatment and are wondering how to cope, then please apply to join the course. Simply complete the application form online. If you have any questions, please email or call: 020 3983 7616.