With nearly 1 in 2 Canadians and 1.8 million Americans being diagnosed with a new cancer in 2020 it’s very likely that you or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer (1, 2).
When you find out that someone you know has cancer, it’s likely your first instinct to help. As a someone who went through the cancer journey myself, I can tell you that the support of friends and family is so important.
With this in mind, I have curated a collection of Gifts for a Cancer Patient to help inspire you and to think of creative ways to help. I have included links to Amazon, where as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Because I support small business and entrepreneurs, including crafters and artisans, I have also included links to one-of-a-kind custom items as well, which are indicated as an Etsy shop (Etsy). I have used both Etsy USA and Etsy Canada in my blog as I have readers from both countries, please pay attention when you click the link.
Also, please be open to supporting your local neighbourhood shop, in which case, use this blog post for inspiration and ideas and shop locally. To create this post, I reflected on my own cancer experience and asked fellow dietitian colleagues as well as followers to my monthly newsletter and my social media what was the best gift they received or gave. You will see their suggestions throughout.
You can read through this post from top to bottom or use this Table of Contents to jump to gifts for a cancer patient that interest you the most
Inspirational Gifts for Cancer Patients
Several of my readers suggested MantraBands (Etsy) were an inspiring gift. This is a bracket or pendant that includes an inspirational saying or words. Some of the bands I’ve seen say “life is tough, but so are you”, “nevertheless, she persisted” and “I love you” and many vendors allow you to customize a piece with your own special saying.
For these pieces, you would definitely need to know the personality of the receiver, and of course, if they even like to wear jewellery. Keep in mind, if someone is having radiation to the head, neck or chest then a necklace would not be a good choice, until the treatment is done for at least a month. For the same reason, a bracelet won’t be great for someone who needs to have a lot of IV’s. But with the right person and the right words, then inspiration can be close-by with a mantra band.
Lacy Blanchard Ngo, wrote that when her son was going through a 3-year health struggle that her prayer journal helped her. She was able to write about her sadness, anger and determination. She also used the journal (affiliate link) to release her emotions and give herself to God. She also used it to write her favourite quotes and scriptures and would go back and read them when she needed to.
I was given a colouring book and pencil crayons. What I liked about it, was the colouring book only had a about 20 pages, I was actually able to colour every page and the spaces to colour were large, so I didn’t have to strain to colour. The one given to me was actually a children’s colouring book, before colouring for adults was even a thing. This Springlings colouring book (Etsy) is similar to the one that I completed. If you are giving pencil crayons, don’t forget to sharpen them, or include a sharpener!
One of the sounds that I find very soothing and calming is the sound of my cat purring. But taking care of yourself during cancer treatment is enough without taking care of a new pet. If the person you are buying for is a cat lover, they may find this Joy for All (affiliate link) realistic plush kitty cat that purrs a calming companion.
Lavender is a calming scent, so fresh lavender, or lavender scented products like lavender epson salts might be welcome if the person you are gifting to isn’t sensitive to scents.
Thoughtful Gifts for Someone with Cancer
Brianne Bell recommends that for someone who needs to spend a lot of time in bed resting, a nightlight or lamp that casts a soft glow or a pretty pattern on the ceiling could b great. Think of the soft pinkish glow of a Himalayan salt lamp (affiliate link) or a nightlight that casts constellations (affiliate link) on the ceiling.
You also can’t go wrong with a thoughtful card or letter that lets someone know what they mean to you.One book that I received from a friend that taught kindergarten was the book Did I Tell You I Love You? by Nancy Young and Bette Broderick. She included an inscription and even gave me a book that was signed by the author. It was such a thoughtful gift.
One thing that chemo is known for is hair loss. I really appreciated when a friend of mine sent a selection of about 5 different hats for me. They were all soft fabric hats and it was such a thoughtful gift. The one that I wore the most was a simple beanie (in fact I still have it). When are you are suddenly bald, you realize how much your hair helps to regulate your body temperature. I found my head was cold at night and I would wear my little beanie to bed.
Here are a selection of soft beanie hats and neck warmers (affiliate link), but my favourite on this page is this thin, extra soft looking cashmere hat (affiliate link). While a thick hat is good for outside, something like this would be just the thing for indoors.
A wig is another gift idea, but of course, this would have to be selected by the patient themselves as it would need to be fitted. Teri Galter, cancer RD recommended this site for head coverings called HeadCovers.com
Another aspect about chemo is that you will need to keep hydrated. One of my community members told me that one of her favourite gifts during her cancer treatment was her swell water bottle (affiliate link). They are BPA free and insulated, both of which are important to a cancer patient and come in designs to suit many personalities.
Mona was one of a group of quilters at the cancer center where she worked who would stitch lap quits for their patients. They would include fabrics that were significant to the person for example, cats, crossword motifs coffee cups etc. The quilts were very well received and sometimes they were able to include special pieces of cloth in the quilt which made them extra special. There are many lap quits available on Etsy.
Although created for morning sickness, queasy pops (affiliate link) may help with some chemo-related nausea.
Post Surgery Gifts
Anna tells me that after her brain surgery she found it really nice to have cozy things and things to pass the time. Her favourite cozy things were blankets (affiliate link), and she really appreciated the homemade ones she received and also cozy socks (affiliate link), hats (affiliate link) and wrap-around head bands (affiliate link).
Because of her surgery, she couldn’t look at a screen for very long and she really enjoyed items that helped her to pass the time like puzzles, crosswords, sudoku and some special edition issues of Time and National Geographic (affiliate links).
When Kayla Rae Girgen‘s grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he was very weak and mostly limited to a recliner, so she gave him this Honey-Can-Do lap desk (affiliate link). At first, he thought she was crazy for giving him something other than candy like everyone else had but he thanked her over and over because it made his final days much more comfortable.
While ‘consumable’ makes me think of food, a consumable gift can be anything that can be used up and leave little waste according to the Bri Bell, RD who runs the website The Frugal Minimalist Kitchen. Ideas for consumable gifts would include bath bombs, candles, incense, essential oils, lotion, handmade dish cloths, and of course food and drink. Consumable gifts would be especially welcome by a person who is concerned about clutter and/or someone who lives in a small space, or is getting their treatment out of town.
But of course, you need to choose something that they would enjoy consuming, so don’t be afraid to ask first about their preferences and be aware of the fragrance in lotions and candles, might be hard to tolerate after treatment so a low or no fragrance scent might be the best.
The ultimate consumable gift would be food, but choosing the right foods can be a mind field. Dietitian Rebecca Stib created a business to fill this need. She personally curates food gift boxes for heart health, pregnancy, breast feeding and cancer. You can read more about this on her site NutritiousGifts.com
One of the best consumable gifts ideas that was provided to me was logs and fire starter for the fireplace. That just sounds so lovely and cozy and I think this would be so welcome, bonus points if you are going to get that fire started too and clean up the ashes.
The thing about a thoughtful gift is, it doesn’t have to be sentimental, it just has to suit the personality of the person you are gifting. When Cathy Lemon RD was diagnosed with cancer, her friend knew the pink ribbon breast cancer gifts would not suit her personality. Instead she gave Cathy a Dammit Doll, which she gave her a much needed laugh when she received it and it continues to be a relief to her.
When I was diagnosed I received so many cards, it really warmed my heart. But, the one that I loved the most was this one from my sister. It’s because she hadn’t forgotten who I was. I didn’t suddenly become a sentimental person when I got sick. I had a sense of humour before cancer and I still had one after my diagnosis. Funny cards and postcards can bring a smile to someone and laughter is the best medicine.
One of my favourite CD sets are the Vinyl Cafe by Stewart McLean (affiliate link). If you aren’t familiar with these, Stewart McLean was a popular Canadian story teller who had a weekly radio show in the CBC. McLean unfortunately passed away from melanoma in 2017, but his stories live on in his CD box sets.
Gifts for Women with Cancer
The Breast & Chest Buddy reduces discomfort from car seat belts after chest surgery. In addition to seat belts, carrying a purse after surgery can also be uncomfortable.
I created hand-crocheted cross body cell phone purses. You can carry your cell phone when you go out without much weight on your shoulders. When my mom was in the hospital recently she kept hers on in bed so that her cell phone was always close by as she had very limited ability to move after her surgery and even reaching far was difficult with a port in her arm.
Many people with cancer can struggle with a poor appetite. I remind my clients and especially their caregivers that we eat with our eyes. While we may want the person we’re caring for to eat a big portion – seeing too much food on the plate can be overwhelming and a turn-off. My grandmother told me that if she saw too much food served to her, then she couldn’t eat any of it. I encourage my clients to make the food look appealing, to serve a small portion and to create a nice atmosphere with the meal. I for one, would enjoy eating out of these pretty decorate bowls (affiliate link) and I believe it might help to perk up the appetite of someone struggling to eat a full meal.
Health and Wellbeing Gifts
A cancer patient needs to be careful when around other people as their immune system is compromised by treatment. This is even more true during a pandemic. Here are some gift ideas that will help to keep you safe and well.
- Organic linen facemask (Etsy)
- 100% Silk double layer facemask (Etsy)
- Organic cotton facemask (Etsy)
- Cotton, washable hand sanitizer holders (Etsy)
- A set of portable cutlery (Etsy)
Healing Gifts for Cancer Patient
One of the best things you can do for healing is to get a good night sleep. It’s important to have a cool dark bedroom and to limit screen time before bed. A relaxing bath with some lavender scented foaming bath salts (Etsy) or a weighted eye pillow (Etsy), or a sleep mask (Etsy).
Stress management is another important aspect to healing. As, Lacy Blanchard Ngo, wrote above, a journal (affiliate link) helped her to release her emotions and grief. She also used it to write her favourite quotes and scriptures and would go back and read them when she needed to.
Cookbook for Cancer Patients
As a registered dietitian, I know it’s important to eat well and I believe in the healing power of food. But as a former cancer patient, I can easily recall the intense fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite and lack of motivation that was part of my treatment. If someone had told me I had to make recipes with more than 10 ingredients, some of which involved me going to speciality stores to find or recipe instructions that spanned two pages, then that would just turn me off.
When I curated the recipe collection for my book The Essential Cancer Treatment Nutrition Guide and Cookbook, I made sure, the recipes were easy. In addition, because this book is written for the patient that is in the midst of treatment, the advice and recipes target the side effects of treatment, including, but not limited to anemia, loss of appetite, taste changes, nausea, heart burn and more. I’ve received letters from readers telling me that my book has been their bible to help them get through treatment. While there are fancier books with more elaborate recipes and exotic ingredients, this book meets the patient where they are.
Inspirational Book for Cancer Patients
One book that I read that I found inspiring was Radical Remission (affiliate link). While I didn’t care for the nutrition chapter, I did enjoy the rest of the book. Had my cancer not responded to treatment like it did, I think reading stories of others who survived against the odds would have given me hope.
Lindsey recommended the book Kitchen Table wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD (affiliate link), which is a collection of short stories about health and lessons learned through the authors own health issues as well as working with her patients, including many with cancer. Lindsay says that reading this book was uplifting, validating and just delightful!
Gift Baskets for Cancer Patients
While individual gifts are lovely, I get very excited when I see a gift basket. It’s really all in the presentation! The way the gifts are styled into the lovely display always looks so inviting. It’s expecaily heartwarming when the gift basket has been curated especially for you. Here are some ideas to include in a gift basket for cancer patients:
- Warm socks (neuropathy from the chemo can make your feet cold)
- Head scarfs (hair loss is common with many types of chemo)
- Gum or mouth spray containing xylitol (treatment can make your mouth dry and xylitol can help you make more saliva)
- Ginger tea, candies, gingerbread cookies or candied ginger to help with nausea
- Nausea patches
- Sea bands (affiliate link)
Gifts of Service
According to the book The 5 Love Languages by Dr Gary Chapman, there are five love languages, which are; words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. I think of this list when I hear of the many acts of service that people reported to me as some of their favourite gifts that they received after being diagnosed with cancer, including; my friend enrolled my kids along with hers into summer camp and brought them to and from camp everyday, friends helped getting my children to school or feeding them when I wasn’t up to cooking or taking them to the park. Claire told me, my friends formed a friendly but firm visiting team for when I seemed to be wallowing a bit too long after treatment – someone to gently push when I needed to get out for a walk or come in for a cup of tea…and then suggest a walk around the block.
Here are some other ideas for gifts of service;
- Taking the dog for a walk
- Cleaning the litter box
- Cooking a meal
- Driving to medical appointments
- Company during chemo infusions
- Grocery shopping
Some of the acts of service you can do yourself, and others you can facilitate, such as;
- Gift certificates for massage
- Ordering groceries for delivery
- Organizing a house cleaner
- Researching for a health professional
- Organizing a schedule for friends and neighbours that want to visit
- Sending out updates to those that need to be kept appraised
- A day at the spa
- Gift cards for grocery stores
Gift Ideas for Family Dealing with Cancer
When a child has cancer it is all-hands-on-deck for parents and that can leave siblings with a huge adjustments in their lives. Not only are they scarred and worried for their sibling, they are receiving less attention from their parents who are focused on the sick child. Gifts that can benefit the entire family are great and you may want to offer some special outings or help for the sibling that doesn’t have cancer such as rides to sports practice or help with homework.
Gifts for Terminal Cancer Patients
For someone for whom cancer treatment is no longer efficacious, then giving a comfort gift can be a good choice. One of my readers told me that a heated blanket (affiliate link) was one of her favourite gifts.
When my father was dying, he had lost so much weight, he found his mattress uncomfortable. I bought him an egg crate topper (affiliate link) for his mattress and he enjoyed that. If there is skin breakdown, then Lambswool padding (affiliate link), either natural or synthetic can help protect and heal broken skin and can be used on a favourite chair on on the bed and would be a welcome gift.
A fresh set of cotton sheets and a freshly made bed feels nice if someone needs to spend a lot of time lying down.
Gifts for Lymphedema After Cancer
If the person you are buying for has developed lymphedema as a result of cancer treatment, I have an entire blog post devoted to products for lymphedema, some of which might make a good gift. But, the one from that list that I recommend is The Complete Lymphedema Management and Nutrition Guide, which is a comprehensive self-care guide.
Gifts that Support Charities
UK based dietitian Lynn Burns has creating a booklet to raise money for Maggie’s Centres – a cancer charity. The booklet called Recipes for Recovery includes recipes and tips for coping with taste changes and loss of appetite
Worst Gifts for Cancer Patients
While of course, there are exceptions, and you should check with the person you are buying for, but as a general rule, I would think twice about the following gifts for a cancer patient:
- Perfumes and other scented products (even if they weren’t sensitive to perfume before, the treatments can make people very intolerant to fragrance. Also radiated skin can be super sensitive)
- Coffee (even the most die-hard coffee lover can lose their taste for coffee, which is very common during cancer treatment)
- Clothing with belts or that fits tightly (many treatment can leave you with acid reflux or bloating and something tight could aggravate this)
- Fruit and veggie baskets (while this is super nutritious, if someone is having diarrhea, digestive difficulties, bloating or mouth sores as a result of treatment (fairly common) then they will need to restrict their intake and depending on the type of chemotherapy they receive they may not be allowed certain fruits like grapefruit, pomegranate, starfruit and Seville oranges (used to make marmelade). If those issues don’t exist, then this is a great option
- Tickets to an event (most chemotherapies will lower a person’s white blood cells, making them more vulnerable to colds and flu. Until their immune system has recovered, they need to avoid crowds)
- Unproven treatments or supplements. Client’s can feel pressured to take supplements that a loved one is encouraging, but this can lead to conflict. Let the patient take the lead on any products they want to investigate.