Worst Gifts for a Breast Cancer Survivor

If you're stumped for gift ideas, these are a few you may want to avoid

It's the thought that counts when giving a gift, but sometimes you need to put a little more brain power into what gift you select for a breast cancer survivor. Some of these things may occur to you, and some are just flat-out wrong-headed. So when picking out the perfect pick-me-up for your loved one who's battled breast cancer, here are a few suggestions of bad gifts you should definitely avoid. 

Anything Related to Body Image Issues

Woman testing personal scales, partial view
Woman testing personal scales. Westend61

Avoid buying memberships to Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and Nutrisystem – sometimes chemotherapy can cause weight gain, and most are not appropriate for someone with a serious medical condition. Skip the new bathroom scales, for the same reason (and for that matter, don't give anyone a new bathroom scale as a gift). Breast enlargement creams aren't effective anyway, and are beyond inappropriate especially if the patient has undergone a mastectomy. Unless you can produce a gift that confirms how much you love her no matter what shape she is, choose your gift from some other category.

Sexy Clothing Items She Didn't Ask For

Colorful bras
Colorful bras. jennyfdowning

Unless you know she's feeling well enough and body-positive enough for sex, avoid anything that may call attention to what may be her new shape. This is a very tricky area especially for partners of breast cancer survivors, but this area is definitely off-limits unless you're intimately familiar with the woman in question. 

A Blouse With A View

Sheer pink blouse hanging
Sheer pink blouse hanging. Alice Gao Photography

Before breast surgery, your cancer-fighter may have worn form fitting, low cut tops with generous armholes. After a sentinel node biopsy, there is a long curved scar in the lower armpit – and after breast surgery, there may be other scars and changes in shape or even asymmetry.  Scars heal over time, but at first they may make the patient feel too self-conscious to bare them publicly. Follow her lead on this, however, you also don't want to give her the idea that her new body is something to be ashamed of by giving her a blouse that says "cover up." 

Foodie Presents She Can't Eat

Cheese platter with different sorts of cheese, baguette and grapes on wood
Cheese platter with different sorts of cheese, baguette and grapes on wood. Westend61

Make sure you know whether or not the object of your affection has had chemo recently and may have neutropenia.   When a patient’s white blood counts are low, their immune system can’t cope with food that may harbor harmful bacteria.  Don’t give baskets of fresh, unpeeled fruits or vegetables, or even ready-made salads.  Pass up the gift boxes loaded with mold-containing cheeses, unshelled or raw nuts, and hard sausages in natural wrappers.  While these items look tasty in all those glossy catalogs, your loved one may not be able to enjoy the food.  Most baked goods should be okay to give, but keep the pickled jalapeños and bleu cheese to yourself.

Cosmetics, Fragrances, and Wigs

Mannequin in a wig
Mannequin in a wig. Charlotte Steeples Photography

Women who are going through treatment for breast cancer may have very dry skin, no hair anywhere, and more fatigue that you can imagine.  Hold the thought of getting her favorite fragrance until about six months after chemo – her sense of smell may be way off, causing even the most expensive perfume to smell like rotten eggs.  Have you always pictured her as an auburn-haired lass?  Well, that may not match her current image of herself.  Better get a gift certificate to a wig salon and let her pick her own portable hairstyle, But tread carefully with any gifts that suggest there's something unattractive about her new body that she needs to change. This category is a mine field for gifts, so it's best avoided.

Gift Tips to Remember

When you choose a gift for a breast cancer survivor, remember to use the RAFT:

Reflect on what the survivor has been through and be respectful.
Ask them for good gift ideas and act on their wishes.
Fighting cancer can change a person; don't expect them to be their old self right away, if ever.
The gift is not about you – put yourself in their position, then choose.

If you can't find a gift that really works for the person you wish to honor, create a custom gift certificate where you offer your time: a ride, a home-cooked meal, an afternoon of house cleaning, running errands, attending a doctor's visit, babysitting, or an evening at the movies in their own home. Such gifts are more precious and irreplaceable than anything you can buy.