Although every cancer patient will be different, an essentials gift bag can provide a combination of practical and pampering items for their hospital stay. For the cancer patient themself an essentials bag is far more than just the sum of the items inside. It gives the patient care and support when they are in the hospital by themselves and your thoughtfulness will make it even more precious.
There are four essential parts of a hospital bag that you need to consider
1. The patient’s hygiene and dignity
On the practical front, we are all now more hygiene-conscious than ever, so hand sanitiser is top of the essentials list for any patient in hospital. Cancer patients may experience changes in their hormone levels so facial wipes are also an essential for a hospital stay and are useful for a general clean when the patient is not very mobile – for example after surgery. A small water spray can also be refreshing, as hospital wards can be very warm. Another practical essential is a packet of tissues. This can help with general cleanliness too as it’s easy to be messy when eating for example, in bed with a table, and can help the patient maintain their dignity. Cancer treatment may also cause the patient’s nose to run, so in these case the issues would be essential.
The stress of cancer, its treatment and the hospital environment can play havoc with a patient and their body. A toothbrush set and a water bottle in an essentials bag will help with a bad taste or dry mouth and with dehydration. All these essential items can be a great help towards a patient’s overcoming the sense of a lack of dignity which can result from being in hospital and the effects of cancer treatment.
2. Items for distraction
Even for those who are not cancer patients, hospitals can be uncomfortable or even frightening places. Mosaic or geometric colouring books have proven remarkably good at taking a patient’s mind off things, especially if they are unable to concentrate on reading or find the light of a screen too bright. The simple act of colouring in the small spaces and choosing colours focusses the patient’s mind on something other than cancer and takes them away from the hospital surroundings.
If you think the patient will be able to concentrate, then a book can be part of an essentials gift bag, but remember to think carefully about the subject matter, even if you know what the patient usually prefers. Sometimes old favourites can be relaxing to re-read. Magazines might be a better choice if you think the patient will have trouble concentrating and can also be picked up last minute in the hospital shop.
3. Bringing comfort to someone in hospital
Unless the patient is in a private room, hospital wards are not always the quietest of places, even cancer wards. It can feel as if there is an endless coming and going of hospital staff, cleaners, nurses, doctors and visitors, possibly even medical students. A small but practical essential for a hospital bag for a cancer patient is earphones and for the bright lights, a sleep mask. These can make all the difference when a patient feels drained and exhausted, especially if they are worrying or not sleeping well at night. A useful and pampering touch for a hospital essentials gift bag is slippers. Spa-type slippers can add a small but noticeable touch of luxury to a hospital setting and are also a practical addition for hard floors and for when the patient goes to the bathroom.
Lack of exercise and the general physical toll on a cancer patient can add to the discomfort of a hospital setting. A good addition to an essentials gift bag is one or even two neck cushions (the kind used on planes). The patient can use these wherever they need support or relief, not just the neck area.
4. The hospital ward environment
Bear in mind that patients often have limited space for their own things in hospital, perhaps only a small bedside cabinet. A small stand-up bag for some essentials can be very helpful to avoid items falling off small hospital cabinets. A bag rather than a container can be flattened later and used again if the patient returns to hospital.
A personal touch is also an important essential for a hospital bag
If the patient is a close friend or relative, a small picture and/or a few words can mean a lot in hospital. There may not be room to stand more than a few cards, but a small or folded paper which can be looked at when the patient is alone will make an essentials bag personal and meaningful. As with books, though, remember not to overdo it. A picture of a flower from a grandchild or a few handwritten words, such a ‘thinking of you’ is probably plenty for a cancer patient.
What not to take a cancer patient in hospital
As important as knowing what are essentials is knowing what not to take to a cancer patient in hospital. Flowers are definitely out and in fact are mostly not permitted by hospitals these days, but a cancer patient might be too sensitive to tolerate even a gentle scent.
Chocolates and indeed any food are probably best avoided for hospital essentials gift bags as a cancer patient’s taste and tolerance can be altered.
Remember that a cancer patient in hospital may well not be feeling their usual self, so whatever you do put in an essentials gift bag, don’t be disappointed if they appear not to appreciate it as much as you had hoped. They are after all dealing with cancer, which can obviously be overwhelming and terrifying. As with everything at this time, when putting together a hospital essentials gift bag for a cancer patient, try and think of what might be helpful and comforting to the patient at this particular time, in hospital. It might not be possible to understand them completely.
Perfect hospital gift hampers for cancer patients
Melissa has worked with both the United Nations and non-governmental organisations in different parts of the world and also with refugees here in the UK.
Having lost her mother after a long battle with ovarian cancer, she hopes to be able to bring some of what she has learned to Cancer Care Parcel as one of Cancer Care Parcel’s authorised contributors.
Melissa hopes to contribute to Cancer Care Parcel’s efforts to help friends and family learn more about cancer and how it is normal to struggle when caring for a loved one, in order to be better able to offer support.