Have you ever thought about buying flowers for chemotherapy patients?
Flowers can convey powerful messages like love, regret, sorrow without the need for words or just become a treat for your freshly cleaned room and your Instagram feed. As a universal means of communication, offering flowers for chemotherapy patients might seem like a good idea. Well, it is not! As a general rule, and reflected by many hospital policies, flowers in a cancer patient room or home is a bad idea. You might be thinking about allergies as a reason for refraining to order your lovely bouquet?
Well, actually, allergies occur in people with a strong immune system and cancer patients have the opposite problem.
Depressed Immune System
Our immune system is a complex and delicate system that relies on many different types of immune cells and their extraordinary ability to recognize and fight threats. These threats can be external such as a bacteria or a virus (or pollens and fungal spores carried by flowers) or internal like a cancer cell itself. Many tumours have found ways to counteract the immune system to stay undetected and this might lead to a weakened immune response.
Side effect of Chemotherapy
Cancer treatment is actually the main reason why cancer patients lose their ability to fight infections. Chemotherapies affect fast dividing cells which is one of the hallmarks of cancer cells. But certain normal cells present in the blood, bone marrow, mouth, nose, intestinal tract, nail and hair are also fast dividing. This explains most of the nasty side effects a cancer patient might, unfortunately, suffer from following their cancer treatment (scientists have been working on these bad side effects and new treatments are now tailored to target cancer cells with more specificity to leave normal cells unharmed). However, if the cells of the immune system (present in the blood and bone marrow) get destroyed, innocuous things like flowers become a threat simply because of the germs they carry.
Alternative Gifts for Cancer Patients
Some patients can also see a bunch of fresh cut flowers that are slowly losing their shape and scent as a reminder of how fragile life is. Not really the best way to communicate good wishes and positive vibes! Fortunately, alternatives now exist as more and more people are aware of the importance of supporting a loved one affected by this terrible disease. You can always consider hand-made paper or silk flowers as a good substitute. Even better: prepare a “bouquet” of fresh fruits or a gift voucher from their favourite grocery store or delivery service (stay away from strong, smelly or rich food as these can cause nausea in some patients!). As you may know that the best way to boost the immune system is to rest, exercise and most importantly to consume healthy, nutritious food.
Any gesture that shows that you have paid attention to your loved one new and changing needs will show your love and support better than any flowers can.
Dr Luisa Robbez-Masson was awarded a PhD from Barts Cancer Institute (Queen Mary University) for studying non-coding polymorphisms in the human FGFR2 gene and their association with breast cancer risk.