Estimated reading time: 16 minutes
Finding out that someone you care about has cancer can be an extremely difficult situation to process and navigate. Many people are unfamiliar with this type of situation and will be unsure what to do to show their support without making the individual feel worse or saying or doing the wrong thing.
We know that people diagnosed with cancer are likely to face a tough time ahead and you’re going to want to make sure that they know you’re there for them every step of the way. Of course, there are many verbal ways to do this. Often, the best thing you can do is to make sure that you’re always there to listen to the person and provide emotional support.
You should be present and there when they may need you, happy to listen to them vent and offer comfort as and when they need it. There are also practical ways to help – for example, accompanying them to appointments if they ask you to, helping with childcare or petcare as and when necessary and various other acts that can make their day to day life easier and more manageable. These are perhaps the most important gifts that will be the most appreciated. However, you can also show your love and support with the kind of gifts you can wrap up and hand over as a present. Here’s some advice to help you to choose the right thing for your friend or loved one!
Table of contents
- Be Mindful
- Be Aware of the Type of Treatment Your Friend Will Be Having
- Cancer Patient Gifts You Should Avoid
- Gifts For Cancer Patients You Might Want to Consider
- Gifts That Provide Comfort
- Cancer Patient Gifts that Maximise Wellbeing
- Gifts That Provide Entertainment
- Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
- Further Reading
Different people will appreciate different kinds of gifts. There’s no one-size-fits-all gift for every cancer patient – in the same way that there’s no set gift for mothers on Mother’s Day, partners on Valentine’s day or every friend on their birthday or Christmas. Only you will know the best gift to give your friend, as you’re the one who will know their tastes and preferences. However, you do have to be mindful of your friend during this process and put extra thought into ensuring you don’t wrap up anything that could be detrimental to their health, or anything that could upset them. Really think over every purchase and do your research on whether it’s appropriate for a cancer patient. There are plenty of sources of information out there, including advice from medics and cancer patients themselves, and plenty on this website. It’s good to read these, as it will give you a better and more rounded idea of what to get and what not to get.
Be Aware of the Type of Treatment Your Friend Will Be Having
In order to be as mindful as possible, you need to be aware of the stage of your friend’s cancer as well as the treatment that they are having – if they’re having treatment at all. If your friend has decided not to have treatment, or if they have a terminal diagnosis, for example, you really shouldn’t purchase anything that says something along the lines of “get well soon”. Different treatments can also have different side effects, which can make often popular gifts, such as flowers or chocolates, inappropriate. Different treatments can have different impacts at different stages too – so a gift that may be appropriate early on in treatment might not be any good later on down the line and vice versa. So, make sure you genuinely understand what your loved one is facing and do plenty of research into what kind of gifts can help and what kind of gifts should absolutely be avoided.
Cancer Patient Gifts You Should Avoid
Before we start looking at gifts that often go down well with individuals who have cancer, it’s perhaps even more important to look at gifts that you really shouldn’t purchase and send or hand over. This will help to reduce instances of embarrassment, upset or hurt. Here are some examples that you might want to bear in mind.
Flowers and Plants
We often send flowers or plants when people are unwell. They brighten up the space and can bring a little joy to their day. But it’s important to check whether flowers and plants are okay before buying them or ordering them to be sent. If your loved one is having chemotherapy, or is a marrow or stem cell transplant patient, plants could actually prove dangerous for them. Many species harbour fungal spores which can place patients at risk of infection and delay recovery. On top of this, you need to remember that plants will generally wilt and die within a few days. This could cause emotional distress to someone who may have thoughts of death at the forefront of their mind on a regular basis.
If you know that the person loves flowers, you could consider alternatives, such as artificial bouquets or displays, origami or paper flowers, or glass flowers. These can serve the same purpose without risking their health and wellbeing.
Perfumes and Scents
We often have a signature scent that we put on in the mornings and you may think that it would be a nice idea to send a bottle of your loved one’s favourite perfume or skincare treatments (such as lotions and creams) into their hospital or care facility to help them feel a little more at home. However, treatments such as chemotherapy can often alter people’s sense of smell and scents that were once appealing or pleasant to them could now make them feel nauseous.
An alternative to this kind of gift could be unscented lotions, creams and other skin care products. This can give a sense of luxury without triggering nausea.
Wigs, Hats or Other Hair Coverings
Not everyone loses their hair while having cancer treatment. Different therapies can result in hair loss, but the degree of which and how it will impact your friend can vary. So, hold off on buying things like wigs, hats or other hair coverings. If, down the line, your loved one would like some, it will be appropriate to buy them then. But you may find that it’s not entirely necessary and buying them prematurely could upset your friend needlessly.
Massage or Other Spa Treatments
Many people think that a comforting and relaxing day or treatment could be the perfect gift for someone who’s going through a difficult time. But often, spa days and spa treatments, such as massages, may not be ideal for cancer patients. First and foremost, some spas may refuse to treat your loved one, deeming them unfit for treatment or too high risk. This can be upsetting. It’s also important to remember that some treatments can leave patients feeling physically sensitive and bruised. The contact of treatments may be uncomfortable and have the opposite effects to what you intended. Some cancer treatments also have aftercare instructions to avoid heat. This means that saunas, steam rooms and hot stone massages can also be out of bounds.
Gifts For Cancer Patients You Might Want to Consider
So, we’ve highlighted a few gifts that you might want to avoid buying for someone who is experiencing cancer. But what gifts could be appropriate and prove a hit? Here are a few suggestions of gifts for cancer patients that might help.
Gifts That Provide Comfort
Comfort is going to be key to improving your friends day to day life while they are unwell. Blankets are the ultimate symbol of comfort. They provide warmth. They provide something soft to cuddle up in. They provide a warm bubble to snuggle away. Often, hospitals have limited resources too, so if your loved one is in hospital, an extra blanket can provide them with more warmth when they sleep through the night. A blanket that you provide is likely to be nicer than hospital-issued options and can be taken home following treatment too. Take a look at different options with different materials, weights, colours and prints. You might even want to consider a weighted blanket, which could help with sleep struggles or anxiety.
There may be times when your friend is being moved around hospitals in the wheelchairs that are provided. A travel pillow can help to make moves from one space to another more comfortable, as well as time spent waiting in waiting rooms or other areas of a hospital. Travel pillows can also come in useful when travelling between home and the hospital, during therapies and convalescence.
If your loved one is going through chemotherapy, they may have a port fitted to reduce the number of times that needles are inserted into their skin. This port will usually be on the chest and drugs can be intravenously administered through it. Port pillows come in useful when protecting this port during movement or when your loved one is in the car (for example, a port pillow can prevent seatbelts from rubbing on the port). This, of course, is quite a niche item, so you may have to search online for one.
Loungewear and pyjamas may be worn more routinely when someone is unwell. Few people want to wear full outfits with uncomfortable materials like denim or stiff cotton when they’re spending time in the hospital or resting up at home. So, loungewear and pyjamas can make great and genuinely practical gifts. More and more companies are offering a variety of options, so there’s bound to be a style that your friend will love. Whether this is baggie all in ones, shorts and t shirts, nightgowns, tracksuits or anything else.
Bed Socks and Slippers
Bed socks and slippers are another great option when it comes to comfort. If your friend is in hospital, a good pair of hard bottomed slippers can be easier to put on than shoes when they have to move around or go to the bathroom. Bed socks can also help to keep their feet warm at all times. These gifts are great around the house too!
Cancer Patient Gifts that Maximise Wellbeing
Reusable Water Bottles
Another practical gift is a reusable water bottle. Getting up regularly for glasses of water may not be an issue for someone who’s in good health, but having plenty of water nearby at all times is useful for someone who may not have high energy levels. There are plenty of different designs out there to make this a truly personalised gift. Whether you get a custom bottle, perhaps with their name or a picture on it, a bottle with their favourite sports team’s logo or band’s logo on, or anything else.
This may sound like an odd one, but people often experience chapped lips when undergoing different treatments and when spending time in hospitals or healthcare facilities that may have air conditioning units running. A good quality lip balm can help to prevent discomfort from chapped lips. Opt for unscented and unflavoured options where possible.
Creams and Lotions
Skin can also become dried out in the kinds of conditions and environments described above. So, unscented, hydrating creams and lotions can be a good gift too. They’ll prevent dryness, soreness, flaking and other issues.
Gifts That Provide Entertainment
Books or a Kindle
If your loved one is spending a lot of time in hospital or convalescing, there’s a good chance that they may be pretty bored and have a lot of time on their hands with little to do. A good book, or a kindle that allows them to choose whatever book they want to read, could be a really great gift for cancer patients. It will provide them with a distraction and something to do. If you are buying a book, try to choose something positive and uplifting. Chances are the person you’re gifting to doesn’t need anything sad in their life right now.
Often, when people are in hospital, they will want to listen to music, but may not be able to, as it might bother other people on their ward. This is why headphones can make a brilliant gift. They’ll be able to listen to their music without hassling anyone else. There are even sleep headphones out there, which are essentially flat speakers in a flat headband that your loved one can wear to listen to podcasts, relaxing playlists or anything else they want to while they drift off to sleep at night. Noise-cancelling headphones are also a good option, as they can block out a little of the typically noisy hospital spaces and provide some peace and quiet for relaxation.
Of course, a tablet is a pretty costly gift, but it could be something that you want to buy your friend if an occasion arises, such as their birthday or Christmas. A tablet is a compact form of all-round entertainment. They could watch films on it. They can read news articles. They can watch videos. They can stream music. It can also be used to hold video calls or group video calls so they can easily keep in touch with everyone they want on a bigger screen. They can download apps and software to practice skills. The opportunities with this device are endless and provide constant distraction.
We tend to associate colouring in with children. But you may have noticed increasing numbers of colouring books marketed at adults making their way onto the market. When it comes down to it, colouring in is an extremely peaceful and relaxing activity that doesn’t require too much thought or effort. Colouring books can provide entertainment when energy levels may be low but your friend still wants a distraction and to feel productive. Just remember to pack some colouring pencils with the book too!
In a similar realm of gifts lies puzzle books – sudoku, crosswords, word searches… the options are endless. But they can, again, provide a simple and enjoyable form of entertainment that isn’t too physically demanding.
If your loved one is spending time at home rather than being in hospital, or if they’re returning home from the hospital, services can often make great gifts, making their lives easier for them and allowing them to focus on resting up rather than day to day chores and routines. Here are some that could prove particularly useful. Of course, always check before investing in a service that involves the person’s home or belongings.
Not having to clean their house when they return home from hospital can be a huge relief for people who have been suffering from cancer. Rather than choosing between exerting themselves with a full house deep clean or living in conditions that they might not feel are up to their usual standard, someone else can complete the work on their behalf and leave them with a comfortable space to spend time in.
Another great cancer gift is a laundry service that will wash, dry, and iron your friend’s clothes, sheets and other laundry as and when necessary. Laundry will always need to be done and having someone else take the weight off your friend’s shoulders could be a great investment.
Chances are your loved one might not want to go out to the shops to buy things when they need to. This is where delivery services come in handy. You can buy packages that offer one year’s worth of free delivery with many companies. Amazon Prime tends to be a popular option, as your friend will be able to get almost anything they need from there. They will could also benefit from free streaming services with the package too!
Uber Gift Cards
Your loved one might not be up to driving but may still want the independence of getting out and about or heading to appointments and other meetings without having to rely on the help of anyone picking them up and dropping them off. Uber gift cards are a great gift that will give them trips when they need it. Just make sure that your friend lives in a location where there are Ubers available before purchasing them. If Uber doesn’t run in the area, you may be able to prepay trips or get vouchers with a local taxi company.
If your friend is spending a lot of time at home during their recovery, they may enjoy subscriptions or subscription boxes. These can arrive through the post and will bring a smile to their face. It could be their favorite magazine or journal. It could be a gift box. It could be anything they enjoy. Take a look at the different options out there and see what best suits your friend and their needs or preferences.
Cancer Care Packages
The right cancer care package can be the perfect gift for cancer patients as the worry of whether the gift is appropriate has been removed. Below are the four best selling cancer gift parcels. All are therapy safe and have been created by people who have experience with different ages and stages of cancer.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
If you really are in doubt, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask your friend for some ideas. If you have an idea but are unsure if it’s appropriate, you can simply ask if it’s something that they’d like or not. If you are completely void of ideas and don’t have a clue what to get, you can check-in and see if there’s anything in particular that they want or need. Asking can really help to clear things up. Sure, it removes some of the element of surprise. But it will also ensure that you get a great gift that they will definitely love.
This may all seem like a lot of information to take in. But hopefully, it’s helped to highlight a few things that you might want to avoid buying for someone who is suffering from cancer or going through cancer treatment or recovery. It should also have given you a fair few ideas of useful, practical and comforting gifts that will be well received well. This is going to be a difficult time and a hard journey for your friend, but your gifts will help to show them they are supported and loved through these difficult times!