Perfect Gifts for a Friend With Cancer

10 thoughtful gifts that show you care

Whether it's given in the spirit of celebration, hope, or "just because," gift-giving is a way to show someone you care about them. When a loved one has cancer, you may be unsure of what type of gift to get them.

If you don't know what it's like to live with cancer, a well-intentioned gift could turn out to be a not-so-good one. For example, gifts that focus on or remind a person of how cancer has changed their body are not ideal.

When you talk with your friend or loved one with cancer, you'll likely find that he doesn't expect you to know what he's going through (after all, he was probably in the same place before he was diagnosed).

A good place to start your search for the perfect gift is talking to your friend with cancer about what she wants and needs, as well as what she'd prefer to avoid or get a break from. If she has a very close friend or someone who acts as a spokesperson, you might also ask that person.

1

Comfort is Key

Woman in white robe

Chris Bernard

When undergoing cancer treatment, comfort is key. Treatment can involve hard plastic chairs and uncomfortable examination tables or take place in cold clinics and hospital rooms that may not feel especially homey.

Speaking of home, your friend may not feel up to leaving the house unless necessary, such as for a doctor's appointment or treatment, she will likely cherish the comforts of home more than ever when she's feeling ill.

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

Don't worry about color or pattern preferences. You can even choose a color or pattern which reflects your tastes, which 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, such as: "Here's a little warmth for the times I can't be with you." 

2

Stress Relief

Aromatherapy meditation
PhotoAlto/Rafal Strzechowski/PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections/Getty Images

Stress is an unwelcomed and uncomfortable experience for anyone, whether they have cancer or not. Aromatherapy pillows, eye masks, and even stuffed animals made with essential oils may help some people manage cancer-related symptoms.

While no studies on using aromatherapy in cancer patients have been published in peer-reviewed journals, several clinical trials have suggested essential oils might have the potential to help cancer patients deal with sleep, nausea, and anxiety.

You may wish to enclose a creative note with your gift that could say: "You can 'vent' your feelings to me—whatever those feelings may be!"

People with cancer are often told to keep a positive attitude, but this advice can be harder to put into practice than to give.

While there are no scientific studies that indicate constant positivity improves survival for people with cancer, research has shown that stress can negatively impact cancer growth.

3

Keep 'em Entertained

Woman watching movie on laptop in living room
JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

Activity levels wane during active cancer treatment and cancer fatigue is a given (even when someone isn't currently having treatment). Books and movies can be an excellent way to escape for a few hours.

An engrossing thriller, a good mystery, a thoughtful biography, or a laugh-out-loud comedy can be great entertainment, but there may be times when your friend wants something more topic-specific.

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

However, your friend may not want to read, watch, or hear anything about cancer. If you don't know what kind of books or movies your friend is interested in (or is not interested in) consider sharing some of your favorites. You may just help her find a new author or genre.

On that note, it's helpful to let your friend know that you don't expect her to read a book you give her or watch a movie you give her. Perhaps your friend doesn't need anything to add to her "to-do" list, such as read a book so that they can show their gratitude.

4

Warmth and Style

Smiling African American woman attaching earring
Peter Griffith / Getty Images

Thinning hair and chemotherapy-related hair loss can be especially bothersome as the weather turns chilly. Even if your friend wishes to go au naturel, she might change her mind when the temperature drops.

Colorful hats, scarves, and bandanas can help keep a friend covered up in style and even put a little "spring" back in her step.

However, don't focus on appearance. Let your friend know she's loved just as she is and that she can "take her hair off" around you without judgment.

5

Food

Couple cooking in kitchen at home
Westend61 / Getty Images

For a foodie friend, treating him to a meal at his favorite restaurant or giving a gift certificate can be a thoughtful option. However, there are a few things to keep in mind before giving food-related gifts.

Make sure the eatery has a large and varied menu. It's not uncommon for a person's taste buds to change during cancer treatment, meaning “old favorites” can become subject to new allergies and sensitivities.

Cancer and its treatment can put a person off food, as nausea and vomiting are frequent symptoms of chemotherapy. Your friend also may not feel up to dining out or needs to avoid public places due to a worn-down immune system.

Another option is looking for places nearby that could bring food right to your friend's door. In a larger city, you'll likely have your choice of services that offer "pick up fresh" and delivery options for meals, snacks, and even groceries.

Even though your loved one may appreciate friends and neighbors bringing over hot meals from time to time, he probably didn't have a choice of the food he received (or how much).

A friend with cancer having a hard time staying nourished would likely appreciate a gift that gives him the ability to order-in exactly what he wants to eat, when he feels like eating it, all without having to go to the store or cook.

6

Pampering

relaxation massage
Getty Images: Jada

A gift certificate for a massage may sound like a good idea, but if your friend has lymphedema, healing surgical wounds or painful joints, bodywork could actually 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 for making it work:

  • Ask boutiques and salons if they carry specialty 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 pick out exactly what she wants or needs
  • Make sure the gift you choose is fully refundable, and include a gift receipt with the gift
7

Jewelry and Keepsakes

Breast Cancer Awareness

 Amazon

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

Often, the design correlates with a cancer awareness campaign's color (such as pink for breast cancer), but you may also be able to customize it with charms that express a particular sentiment or message (Hope, Joy, Courage, and Love) or a personal inscription.

8

Personalized "Coupons"

A woman working at a computer using software to analyze qualitative data.
mihailomilovanovic/Getty Images

Sometimes, a great gift isn't a material good at all. It may be that what your friend needs is something you can do, rather than buy.

Personalized gift certificates or coupons are endearing and 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, or a week of grocery shopping.

Simply offering an hour of "help" is vague and is more likely to result in the gift certificate going to waste. Ask yourself what things your friend might not even think to ask for help for (or may not want to ask for help for), such as washing windows, gardening, or cooking a child's favorite meal.

Specific coupons can be a welcomed relief for someone who is overwhelmed by decision-making related to treatment, managing symptoms, and other aspects of living with cancer.

9

DIY Gift Baskets

Gift Basket Business
Credit: Timothy Furre | Getty Images

Assemble a gift basket with things a friend might need during and after cancer treatment. Magazines, journals, organic lip balms or aloe to soothe chapped skin, a squishy stress ball, cozy socks, aromatic candles, plus crackers, ginger candy, tea, and/or a favorite snack, are just a few ideas.

While it might take a little more effort, putting together a do-it-yourself gift shows your friend that you took the time to think of him or her in a way a quick gift doesn't.

The variety of a gift basket can also add some novelty and pleasant surprise to your friend's day, which may have been reduced to managing appointments and coping with treatments.

10

Support a Charity

Human breast cancer cell
Credit: Cultura Science/Rolf Ritter/Oxford Scientific/Getty Images

For a friend who insists she has everything she wants or needs, recognizing her by supporting an organization that doesn't can be a thoughtful alternative.

Most cancer research organizations, hospitals, and societies maintain charitable programs where people can make one-time or monthly gifts, as well as arrange legacy giving. Givers also reap the tax benefits of making charitable donations.

An institute's year-end financial reports will list the areas of research which are invested in as well as the percentage of each dollar directed to administrative costs (often referred to as the "facilities and administrative rate" or F&A).

Look for organizations devoted to specific cancers, such as ​LUNGevity for lung cancer survivors and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. With breast cancer, consider donating to an organization that is 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.

A Word From Verywell

If you're still contemplating the perfect gift, it might help to try stepping into your loved one's shoes to better understand what it's like to have cancer. Acquainting yourself with the list of what to pack for chemotherapy will also be helpful.

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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Article Sources
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  1. National Cancer Institute. Aromatherapy with essential oils (PDQ®)–patient version. Updated November 7, 2019.

  2. National Cancer Institute. Psychological stress and cancer. Updated December 10, 2012.