I have seen so many articles suggesting spa treatments for people who have breast cancer and beanies for people having chemotherapy that I decided it was time to put the record straight.
The first this to say is
Do not get gifts for people with cancer unless you are sure that they are appropriate. Your time and a listening ear are much more valuable than a present that has not been well thought out.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of buying chocolates to cheer people up or flowers to brighten up their day, but these (even for the biggest chocolate or flower lovers) can be useless gifts and in some cases even harmful.
Here I discuss 5 common gifts that do not benefit cancer patients, depending on what therapies they are having and/or have had
1. Beanies and other hair coverings
Almost everyone imagines a cancer patient losing their hair with treatment, but hair loss only occurs with certain therapies and with the amazing developments in cancer research even this is no longer always the case. Whether people lose their hair depends upon their medication and it is not even always possible to tell beforehand who will be affected or how badly.
Hair loss from chemotherapy depends on factors such as:
- the type of drug or combination of drugs
- the dose
- the route (by mouth or as an injection or a drip through a vein)
- sensitivity to the drug
- any drug treatment the cancer patient has had in the past
So before you go out and by that nice scarf or beanie for your friend who has a cancer diagnosis, just wait and see if they need it.
2. Spa treatment
A few years ago, someone recovering from cancer or having cancer therapy may well have been refused treatment at a spa and there are many good reasons for this. For example, lymphedema can be a long-term complication of cancer treatment, and it often affects individuals who have had surgery for breast cancer. One of the current recommendations to avoid getting lymphedema is to avoid extreme heat, for example, the heat you would be exposed to in saunas and steam rooms. Once someone develops lymphodema there is no cure and it can be extremely painful. So any precaution to avoid the possibility of it developing is good advice. It is also very important that saunas and steam rooms are avoided during and for a few weeks after radiotherapy.
However, there are more and more spas that are recognizing the need for cancer patients to have access to their facilities and you will find that many now have specialists who are trained to treat people who have had cancer. So if you do want to book your friend in for a spa treatment make sure the place you choose knows about the cancer diagnosis and that they have someone specially trained who can look after them. It is also best not to surprise your friend and to discuss the booking with them first so that they can discuss any spa treatments with their doctor (s).
There are many reasons why chocolate might be a bad choice of gift for a cancer patient, but again, we would suggest that you check with your friend first. On a personal note, all through my cancer treatment, I had chocolate. It was something I was not prepared to give up. However, I had friends with cancer who stopped eating anything with added sugar and others who found their taste had changed due to therapies and could not stand the chocolate taste anymore. If in doubt, as with most things check. Just don’t assume that because they may have been a chocolate fanatic before their diagnosis, that they would still appreciate it now.
Cancer treatment plays a large part in making cancer patients lose their ability to fight infections. This is because treatment is destroying most cells that divide quickly. This not only includes cancer cells but also the immune cells that protect the body from usually harmless bugs. So for a cancer patient having some types of treatment things like flowers, which are usually harmless, become a threat simply because of the germs they carry. This is explained further in another article on this site which can be found here.
With all the stress of a cancer diagnosis and the treatments and appointments, its easy to think that a nice relaxing destress massage is a good idea for someone with cancer. But, again, this is not always the case. It is very important, for example, to avoid massaging any area of the body where there has been radiotherapy treatment, where skin maybe is broken or bruised. If lymph nodes have been removed a deep tissue massage could bring on lymphedema. In addition any rough and rigorous massages, scrubs or treatments should be avoided because the skin could be more sensitive than usual.
So what can you buy a cancer patient?
Firstly, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on a cancer gift. Sometimes you might just want to do something different: to bring a smile to the face of someone who has or will be going through a lot. Great cancer gifts don’t need to cost much, sometimes it just needs some thought. You can read here some of our ideas for cancer gifts that don’t have to cost a lot.
Or you might want to get an already made up care package, where you don’t have to worry about appropriate items. For example, our gift packages are carefully constructed so that they always contain therapy safe appropriate items. Here are three of our best selling hampers to give you an example of how we put our gifts together.
When treatments are over
And when therapy is over its important not to stop helping your friend. Many cancer patients say that the support stops after their last treatment and it can become a very lonely time, especially since the symptoms from treatments can linger for months. This may be exactly when they need your support when all other support has faded away. And while it is natural to think that a celebration is due and it would be good to mark the end of treatment with a happy celebration or token of celebration, time for recovery is still needed.
For every stage of a cancer patient’s journey, there are appropriate gifts that you can give, from thoughtful letters and offers to help, to carefully created gift hampers. You just need to make sure that what you want to give is appropriate for who they are and the treatment they are undergoing, have had or are going to have. There are even items you can get if they do not have treatment. What is important is to get stay informed about what may or may not be appropriate and if in doubt ask.
Dr Cohen started her working life as a research scientist and lecturer with over 100 peer-reviewed scientific publications.
She followed a classical scientific career until she left mainstream science in 2000 (which coincided with the birth of her first daughter) to establish the Life Science Communications company, Euroscicon Ltd.
Euroscicon Ltd was her first company (which she sold in 2016).
In 2013 she was diagnosed with Cancer and set up Cancer Care Parcel
She also works with and establishes businesses and charities which benefit local, national and international communities.