What to Get Cancer Patients: Gifts Ideas
When someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer, your first thought might turn to getting them a gift to help them feel better. If you’re considering getting a gift for a cancer patient in your life, but don’t know where to start, here are some tips from real cancer survivors on ways you can help – whether it’s a thoughtful physical gift or just donating your time and support.
Comfortable clothing – Comfortable clothing (hats, soft shirts, sweatpants, etc.) are essential items for patients dealing with the side effects of cancer treatment and chilly hospital environment.
One leukemia survivor, Casey Head, mentioned a thoughtful gift from her friend of some simple cotton shirts:
My friend went to Target or wherever and got a bunch of basic cotton shirts. She cut an entire side off each of them and velcroed them back together. That way I didn’t have to ask the nurses to take out my IV if I wanted to shower. I could just take the shirt off, wrap my arm and shower.
Before that, I would have to wait for someone to come unhook me. That was the best gift anyone could’ve given me in a million years. Having the independence to shower when I wanted to was awesome.
Gift cards – A basic gift card may be just the thing to cheer up a friend dealing with cancer with a well-deserved night out at the movies or a restaurant. Gift cards can also help patients fill a crucial gap in their day-to-day needs. Breast cancer survivor, Caitlin James, suggests:
Little things here and there, like my aunts would send me gift cards for groceries. That was incredible because when you’re spending so much money on other aspects of your health, you can neglect simple areas like your diet.
Blankets – Hospital rooms are often chilly, especially for cancer patients undergoing chemo or other treatment. A colorful, warm blanket can help warm the patient’s body and spirts at the same time. As leukemia survivor Casey Head explains:
Blankets are always essential for the hospital. It’s so freezing in there and they only give you the thin little blanket. It just doesn’t help that much. Definitely bring blankets with you.
Letters – There’s just something about getting a physical letter. In this age of technology, emails, texts and direct messages are king. That can make receiving a letter even more special. Hodgkin lymphoma survivor Lauren Chiarello says that the letters she received encouraged her.
I got letters and little gifts from people all over the country. They said ‘We’re cheering you on! We can’t believe you just ran a half marathon! You’re such a rockstar and you have more cheerleaders than you know!’
Any time someone that I know or friends of friends or family friends, if they’re going through a hard time, that’s one of the first things I ask is if there’s an address, and I try to send a note of encouragement.
Stuffed animals – It can be comforting to have something soft to hold, or it may just be cute and brighten their day by looking at it.
Coloring books – Many patients go through at least a little bit of anxiety. Adult coloring books have been on the rise as a way to calm your mind for several years now and are easy to find at a lot of bookstores and online.
Planner or calendar – It can be hard to keep up with all the appointments and medications to take. Getting a planner for a patient is a great way to help them stay organized.
Cold compress or heating pad – Always make sure you follow medical advice, but home care items to keep you warm (or cool) can be a great, practical gift for cancer patients struggling with their body temperature.
Acts of service and emotional support
“Acts of service” is a love language for a reason. If a physical gift isn’t your (or a friend with cancer’s) style, then do something for your loved one that they can’t do or don’t have the time or energy to do for themselves. Do something you know will make them smile. Do something that will take some of the weight or stress off of their shoulders. Here are just a few simple ideas:
Go to the grocery store – Especially if the person you love is a parent with a busy family life. They are going to want to be able to keep their house running smoothly, but their job is to beat cancer. You can help buy groceries or any other household goods they might need.
Cook – If you don’t know what they might need from the store, cook them a meal. That’s one less thing they have to worry about.
Offer to drive them somewhere – Chemo and other cancer treatment can make patients feel ill, exhausted, and otherwise unable to drive. An offer to shuttle your loved one to appointments, the store, the pharmacy, etc. can be a lifesaver, or just a pleasant distraction. Doreen DiSalvo survived stage 2A breast cancer, and she credits a lot of her serenity to being around her friends.
Somebody [would come] to pick me up and drive me around. ‘I don’t care where you’re going,’ is what I said to my friends. It’s like if you’re going for an errand, come pick me up. Getting into the car is hard, getting out of the car is hard, walking normal – hard. Thinking – hard. But you could still be with somebody and not say anything and roll through it. For me that was huge.
Clean their house – Caitlin James explains how it helped her on different levels. It took something off of her plate, but it also helped her save money.
“My mom would come clean the house so we didn’t have to get a house cleaner and spend money that way. There was no way I was going to be able to do that.”
Start a fundraiser – If you know your friend is going to need help financially and you want to help, know that fundraisers like GoFundMe are common. Many acquaintances, friends, and family members who can’t physically be involved will want to help too. This is a way everyone can be involved.
Nicole Body went through a stage 3 soft tissue sarcoma diagnosis and she says,
I would have never set up anything for myself, but we had friends set up a YouCaring page, which is like a GoFundMe page. It was amazing watching friends step up like that and seeing how many people love you in different ways.
Jude Abella had stage 3 Multiple Myeloma that metastasized in several different places. She’s a cancer survivor, and she’s also a licensed massage therapist. Jude’s friends and family helped her this way.
I had two fundraisers. That was very generous and kind and mind-blowing. The generosity was overwhelming. That was very touching. The generosity of the physical gifts was very kind, but I think that anybody that reached out just meant so much. You never know how you’ve affected someone’s life until you’re in a situation like this.
Even if it’s not money you’re raising, you can still host an event for them. Lauren Chiarello explains how her sister not only helped her but so many others:
My sister organized a blood drive for me. I mentioned that I needed blood transfusions, so blood cells and platelets which are in that category. So, she motivated folks to come to Memorial Sloan Kettering, their blood donor room, and donate blood for me. Even if it wasn’t necessarily used directly for me, it was used for other patients in the hospital, because they only have a certain shelf length. It never went to waste.
Communication – Arielle Rosen is a non-Hodkin lymphoma survivor and says she needed people more than anything else.
For me, I cope with people, that’s just who I am. I’m a dependent coper. I do better when I’m in communication with someone, so finding other peoples’ stories was the best gift for me.
You can always send a text or call. You can lend a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes the best gift you can give someone is letting them know that they are not alone. Remind them you are with them – even if you can’t physically be there. If you can physically be there, visit.
Visiting – Jude Abella says the worst part of her treatment was feeling alone. She appreciated everything everyone did for her, but the visits are what helped her the most.
The best thing was the visiting. Feeling like someone cared and loved me enough to physically visit me was amazing. Of course, the calls and texts were great too, but the physical visits were a huge deal.
One friend in particular would come and say, “All I want to do is hold your hand and kiss your head.” I hadn’t seen this guy in 20 years, and now he’s one of my best friends. He would come and just hold my hand through the plastic glove. It was so wonderful.
Having friends make an effort to drive down to see me – that was really encouraging. I had times where I would get in the car and before I even said hello, I would start crying because they were a safe space where I didn’t have to be so strong anymore. Having space to freely feel was really important.