Confession: I’m a Terrible Gift Giver. I don’t know why. I just am. Each Christmas my sisters-in-law and I all exchange gifts. They are little gift bags of things that make life fun: notebooks, lotions, great pens, etc. I am always in awe of the ladies’ creativity and thoughtfulness.
In comparison, my ideas are unoriginal, and my gift bags aren’t nearly as cute. Still, they appreciate my effort. Gifts are another way to show someone you care about them.
Money can be a sensitive subject, but it is an important part of life. Many times, we’ve had people bless us with cash, checks, and gift cards just when we needed it most.
Because of being self-employed Realtors, we don’t get sick pay. So, when Dan was diagnosed with cancer, one of the things that began to suffer was our finances. With all of Dan’s appointments, and him becoming sick from treatment, many potential clients were unsure of whether we’d be able to give them the attention they needed in their home buying/selling process. Often they were tempted to choose someone else to represent them and we were left with no income.
Even patients with jobs that offer sick pay, find that it runs out all too quickly.
The patient’s spouse needs to be there for the patient during treatment and recovery, and not only for support. When someone is facing an illness that can be terminal, it’s important for the family to have as much time together as possible.
This is especially a concern when there are children at home. Emotional struggles and fear can quickly creep in. Having both parents there to manage the children’s insecurities and the by-products of the situation make a big difference. You can learn more about parenting with cancer in my upcoming book, Facing Cancer as a Parent.
The Gift of Giving
Some people are more comfortable giving gifts, than “doing something.” That’s wonderful because gifts can make as much of a difference as anything. They can be a huge blessing and brighten someone’s day.
Gifts can be practical, fun, interesting, serious, or light, depending on what your friend needs the most.
When giving gifts, it’s helpful to keep in mind the interests and hobbies of your friend. They may appreciate something really silly or unusual, or something that is deeply meaningful.
If the patient is someone you don’t know as well, like a neighbor or work colleague, you may want to stick with something more traditional.
Gifts We’ve Received
We’ve received some gifts that have lightened our load during this journey. Gift cards to order pizza enabled us to make our daughter’s 11th birthday more special, even though we were financially strapped.
One day a dear couple stopped by with a pair of slippers, a robe, comfy pajama bottoms, and several meals. We were overwhelmed by their love for us.
Another couple came over during the holidays with a basket full of fruit, and a gift card for groceries which we used in order to have a wonderful Christmas meal with all of our kids.
We’ve been given timely financial gifts that have dramatically improved our lives.
I could go on, but instead, I’ll give you a list of some ideas you can use to bless the people in your life who are struggling.
- CDs or gift cards for downloadable music or audiobooks
- DVDs of movies, TV shows, or documentaries
- A video message from family and friends
- Pictures of friends and family
- An e-reader and a gift card to add some books to it.
Traditional Comfort Gifts:
- A good book, or a magazine or newspaper subscription.
- Crossword or Sudoku puzzles
- Note cards or a journal
- Gift a soft, comfortable hat or scarf if your friend will lose his/her hair with treatment. This helps men and women feel more comfortable in appearance, and physically. You lose a lot of heat through your head in the winter if you don’t have hair. Bald heads burn easily in the summer sun without protection.
- Gift a super comfy blanket, socks, or robe, for couch lounging or trips to chemo.
- Slippers, pajamas or robe
- Give a plant or send a flower delivery. However, make sure the person isn’t on neutropenic precautions first; fresh flowers can be an infection risk for cancer patients with weakened immune systems. Also, make sure they don’t have any sensitivities. Lilies, in particular, can have strong scents that bother some people.
- Gift certificates for massage, spa services, restaurants or museum/art gallery passes can all help lift someone’s spirits and make life a little more “normal.”
- Grocery stores gift cards can be extremly helpful.
- Buy gas cards to help with the extra driving to appointments. I remember one week when we spent about 10 hours driving to and from appointments. Friends gave us gas cards which made a huge difference!
Splurge and Pamper:
- Accessories (earrings, bracelets, scarves, ties, hats), makeup, or beauty items
- Portable hobby supply kits (scrapbooking, drawing, and needlepoint) or puzzles can be relaxing gifts.
- Treat him or her to a spa or beauty treatment: manicure/pedicure, facial, makeup application, etc. It may be the first time they’ve felt pampered in a while.
- Housecleaning- When someone has cancer, the entire household goes into “survival mode,” and cleaning often falls by the wayside. But that doesn’t mean that the newly accumulated dust and clutter go unnoticed.
Often, patients and caregivers are embarrassed at the condition their home is in because they lack the time and energy to clean. They scurry around trying to get things in order when they hear that someone is stopping by. This leaves them exhausted, later.
You could offer to help clean, (use your best judgment as to how this will be received). Often shame and embarrassment will keep people from accepting.
Paying for a visit from a cleaning service on chemo day would be a huge blessing. They will return home to a spiffed up house and have one less thing to worry about.
Note* Make sure that they are okay with this since some people are very private and will not be as appreciative of this.
- Send a mobile masseuse for a gift massage. Use caution if the patient has metastatic cancer that has spread to their lymphatic system. The safest thing to do is to have them check with their doctor. This is also a great gift for stressed-out caregivers.
If you want to give “outside of the box”:
- Check to see if your employer would allow you to donate money or vacation time to cover paid-time-off hours for the patient or caregiver you work with.
- Look into donating air miles so that they can take a trip, or family from far away can visit.
A Bonus Idea for the Adventurous: A Chemo Day Bag!
Spending time in the “chemo chair” is no fun. The day often includes several different appointments and can become long and drawn out. One way to bless someone who’s receiving chemotherapy is to give them something to make the day easier and the time to go by faster.
Any bag will do. If you are going to go all out, a diaper bag has plenty of room, and all of the pockets are great for organizing the goodies you can fill it with. Don’t feel like you need to use all of these ideas. Even a small gift bag with one or two of the items will let the patient know you care and want to make their chemo day easier. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- You could include things like a travel mug with herbal tea or cocoa packets.
- Lotion and Chapstick help with the drying effect of chemo.
- Mints, lemon drops or “Preggo-pops” (ginger candy), all help with nausea associated with chemotherapy.
- A favorite novel, puzzle book or devotional can help pass the hours in the chair. Add a journal and pen for the patient to record their thoughts at such an emotional time.
- Hand sanitizer and baby wipes are wonderful for cleaning up after a snack (which you could also include).
- If you really feel like going all out, you could add a quilt or a fleece blanket.
- A heating pad is a great addition for extra comfort and warmth during those long chemo sessions.
- Consider putting together a small bag for the caregiver. Often they sit in a folding chair during the hours the patient is receiving chemo.
Dan developed “brain mets,” or metastasis to the brain, two years after Dan his initial diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer. He went to the University of Minnesota for a procedure called, “Gamma Knife.” It used concentrated rays of radiation to strategically eliminate the tumor in his brain while sparing the rest of the brain. It was going to be a long day, so my mother-in-law came along to keep me company. My brother-in-law gave us a ride so that we wouldn’t need to worry about driving and parking. My sister-in-law sent little gift bags with snacks and reading material for our wait. Each of these loved ones made a frightening day much easier.
Note: This post and its suggestions have been excerpted from the book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer.
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In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com
I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker