Thoughtful Gifts for Cancer Patients

10 ways to show you care

Woman in white robe 9 1/2 Weeks

Chris Bernard

Gifts are a meaningful way to show someone you care. When a loved one has cancer, you may be unsure of what type of gift to get.

A well-intentioned gift can easily backfire. This is especially true if you don't know what it's like to live with cancer. For example, gifts that focus on how cancer has changed a person's body are not ideal.

Your friend or loved one probably doesn't expect you to know what it's like to have cancer. After all, no one can truly understand the experience until they've been through it.

A good place to start is to ask. Ask about the things your friend might need or might like to have a break from.

Some people with cancer have a close friend or relative who acts as a spokesperson. You can also ask that person for a gift idea.

This article provides some suggestions for buying a gift for a friend or loved one with cancer.

Gifts of Comfort

Comfort during cancer treatment is often hard to come by. Treatment can involve sitting in hard plastic chairs and lying on uncomfortable exam tables. It may take place in cold clinics and hospital rooms that may not feel very homey.

Your friend may not feel up to leaving the house much. Excursions may be limited to doctor appointments or treatments. Because of this, cancer patients often cherish the comforts of home even more during this time.

Consider giving your friend some soft, cozy socks, slippers, pajamas, or robes. Sheepskin and chenille items are ideal. A warm, soft shawl or fleece blanket is the perfect way to wrap your friend in love and comfort. The fuzzier, the better!

Don't worry about color or pattern. You can even choose a color or pattern that reflects your own tastes. This can serve as a reminder of your friendship during the long and often lonely days of cancer treatment.

Add a note that describes the meaning behind your gift. For example: "Here's a little warmth for the times I can't be with you." 

Recap

Consider a gift that can help your friend feel more comfortable during treatment or long days at home, like a soft robe or blanket.

Gifts that Help Ease Stress

Stress is difficult for anyone, whether they have cancer or not. Aromatherapy products may help some people manage cancer-related symptoms. These scented products include pillows, eye masks, and even stuffed animals made with essential oils.

No studies on using aromatherapy in cancer patients have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Several clinical trials, though, have suggested that essential oils might help cancer patients deal with sleep, nausea, and anxiety.

People with cancer are often told to keep a positive attitude. It's much easier to give this advice than to put it into practice.

There are no scientific studies that link positivity with improved survival for people with cancer. Research has shown, though, that stress can negatively impact cancer growth.

Gifts that Entertain

Activity levels wane during active cancer treatment. Cancer fatigue is common even for patients who aren't currently undergoing treatment. Books and movies can be an excellent way to escape for a few hours.

A thriller, mystery, biography, or a laugh-out-loud comedy can be great entertainment. There are times, though, when your friend might want something more relevant.

If your friend wants to read up on cancer, there are many books to choose from across many different genres. Here are a few options:

  • "5 Lessons I Didn't Learn from Breast Cancer" by Shelley Lewis
  • "It's Not About the Hair: And Other Certainties of Life and Cancer" by Debra Jarvis
  • “Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul: Stories to Inspire, Support and Heal” by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Mary Olsen Kelly
  • “The Breast Cancer Survival Manual, Fifth Edition: A Step-by-Step Guide for Women with Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer” by John Link
  • “Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy” by Geralyn Lucas

Sometimes, people with cancer may not want to read, watch, or hear anything about cancer. If you don't know what kinds of books or movies your friend is or is not interested in, consider sharing some favorites. You may help your friend find a new author or genre.

On that note, it will be helpful to let your friend know that reading the book or watching the movie is optional. Your friend may not want to feel obligated to add to an already long to-do list.

Recap

People with cancer often experience fatigue. A book or movie can help provide a welcome escape.

Gifts of Warmth and Style

Thinning hair and chemotherapy-related hair loss can make cold weather uncomfortable. Some people with cancer prefer not to wear hats or wigs, but cold temperatures can change that.

Warm hats, scarves, and bandanas can help keep your friend covered up in style. Don't focus on appearance, though. Let your friend know that head coverings are always optional.

Gifts for Foodies

If your friend is a foodie, consider gifting a meal or gift certificate from a favorite restaurant. Remember a few things before choosing this type of gift, though.

Pick a restaurant with a large and varied menu. Sometimes, a person's taste buds change during cancer treatment. “Old favorites” can become subject to new allergies and sensitivities.

Cancer and its treatment can put a person off food. This is because nausea and vomiting are frequent symptoms of chemotherapy. Your friend may not feel up to dining out. People with cancer may also need to avoid public places due to a compromised immune system.

Another option is nearby restaurants that can deliver food to your friend's door. Look for local services that offer "pick up fresh" and delivery options for meals, snacks, and groceries.

Your loved one will appreciate friends and neighbors bringing over hot meals from time to time. For someone with cancer, though, it's always good to have some choice.

It can be hard to stay nourished when you have cancer. Choose a gift that will let your friend decide what to eat and when to eat it.

Gifts that Pamper

A gift certificate for a massage may sound like a good idea. These kinds of services aren't always the best choices for people with cancer, though. If your friend has swelling, healing surgical wounds, or painful joints, bodywork could be painful.

The same goes for many personal care products.

Take care with soaps, lotions, and spa gift sets. Even most organic products may contain scents or irritants that your friend may not be able to tolerate.

If you have your heart set on this type of gift, here are a few suggestions to help make it work:

  • Ask boutiques and salons if they carry products designed for cancer patients 
  • Look for products that are scent-free or scentless and not made with common skin irritants
  • Give gift certificates, which will allow your friend to choose products and services
  • Make sure the gift you choose is fully refundable, and include a gift receipt

Jewelry and Keepsakes

Many in-person and online stores sell jewelry and keepsakes to raise awareness for nearly every type of cancer. In many cases, some or all of the proceeds go to cancer research.

These products are often designed using the campaign's color. For example, pink for breast cancer.

You may also be able to customize jewelry with charms that carry a particular message like hope, joy, courage, or love. You may also want to add a personal inscription.

Recap

Jewelry and other products that help raise cancer awareness can be meaningful, personal gifts.

Personalized "Coupons" Offering Help

Sometimes, a great gift isn't material. Your friend might need something you can do rather than buy.

Personalized gift certificates or coupons are endearing. They can come in handy when your friend isn’t feeling 100%. Just be sure to make gift certificates specific.

For example, you could design and print a coupon your friend can redeem for:

  • A day of housecleaning
  • A night of home cooking
  • A week of grocery shopping
  • Taking the kids for a day

Something like "one hour of help" is too vague. This is more likely to result in the gift certificate going to waste.

Your friend may need help with certain things, but may not think or want to ask for it. For example:

  • Washing windows
  • Gardening
  • Cooking a child's favorite meal

Cancer-related decisions like treatment, symptom management, and day-to-day living with cancer can feel overwhelming. Specific coupons can help provide welcome relief.

DIY Gift Baskets

Put a gift basket together. Include things your friend might need during and after cancer treatment. Some ideas:

  • Magazines and journals
  • Organic lip balms or aloe
  • A squishy stress ball
  • Cozy socks
  • Candles
  • Crackers or ginger candy
  • Tea
  • Favorite snacks

Gift baskets may take a little more effort. Still, a do-it-yourself gift is more thoughtful and may be more appreciated. The variety in a gift basket may be a welcome distraction from the daily activities of managing appointments and coping with treatments.

Recap

A DIY gift basket is a thoughtful way to show you care. Fill it with reading material, cozy socks, snacks, or products that help relieve stress.

Gifts that Show Support

Your friend may prefer not to receive gifts. If so, consider supporting a cancer charity in your friend's name.

Most cancer research organizations, hospitals, and societies maintain charitable programs. You can make one-time or monthly gift. As a bonus, donations come with tax benefits.

This type of gift may require a little research. Look at the institute's year-end financial report. It will tell you which areas of research it invests in.

It will also note how much of each dollar is spent on administrative costs. These costs are often called the "facilities and administrative rate" or F&A.

Look for organizations devoted to specific cancers. Examples include:

If your friend has breast cancer, consider donating to an organization focused on finding a cure for metastatic breast cancer, such as METAvivor. Many organizations devote a large percentage of their bottom line to supporting people with cancer and looking for cures.

Recap

Instead of a gift, you may want to make a donation to a charity that supports people with cancer or is working towards a cure.

Summary

When a loved one has cancer, it can be hard to find the perfect gift. Consider gifts that provide comfort, like blankets and soft robes. Gifts that provide stress relief, like an aromatherapy pillow, will also be appreciated.

Consider books and movies to provide entertainment when your friend is feeling fatigued. Warm hats and scarves are also good choices if the weather is cold.

Take care when choosing food gifts. Favorite foods may change during cancer treatment. Consider gift certificates or a treat from a restaurant with a large menu.

If you want to treat your friend to a massage or spa treatment, think first about whether these treatments may cause pain and discomfort. Look for services that cater specifically to people with cancer.

Jewelry and keepsakes or a DIY gift basket are other thoughtful ways to treat your friend. You can also give your friend a "coupon" for help with a specific task, like housework or babysitting.

Finally, if your friend doesn't want a personal gift, consider donating to a charity that supports cancer research. 

A Word From Verywell

If you're still trying to find the perfect gift, step into your loved one's shoes to better understand what it's like to have cancer.

Finally, remember that support for people with cancer goes far behind gifts. Just being there to listen and show you care can mean a lot.

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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Cancer Institute. Aromatherapy with essential oils (PDQ®)–patient version.

  2. National Cancer Institute. Psychological stress and cancer.