Christmas can be tricky if a loved one is going through cancer and choosing a Christmas gift for someone affected by cancer can be especially difficult.
Whilst some cancer patients may want to forget about their illness for just one day, others may feel that a jokey present undermines or belittles what they are going through. Traditional gifts may lack the meaning or sentiment that you’re trying to convey, but who wants to be presented with a “I’m sorry you’ve got cancer” mug on Christmas day?
Cancer treatment and the inevitable side effects may also make some gifts less suitable. Dietary changes such as mouth sores or taste changes can make choosing a foody gift more challenging than usual. And many chemo patients develop a smell sensitivity, so that well-intentioned pampering set of 'smellies' might not actually get used.
But don’t worry, with a bit of thought, together with some help from CancerPal… I'm sure you’ll be able to come up with a thoughtful and practical gift that will not only remind your loved one they are still human, but will also show that you’re thinking of them and what they’re going through at this time of year.
The gift of time
At this busy time of year, a loved one undergoing cancer treatment may find they don’t have the energy to participate in the traditions they normally enjoy. If this is the case, a gift of your time may be more appreciated than a material gift. You could offer to spend an afternoon shopping for the items on their Christmas list or addressing Christmas cards and wrapping gifts for them.
Or perhaps you could offer to take them for an evening drive to see the local festive lights. There’s a street near where we live that is renowned for their Christmas light displays and each year we bundle the kids into the car for the ‘Festive Light Show’. We eat fish & chips and mince pies in the car and drive round in search of the best festive lights we can find. The kiddies love it and maybe your loved one might enjoy something similar too, where they get to experience the sights and sounds of Christmas, but without having to deal with the crowds?
What do they want?
Whilst gifts of time and love are the most important gifts of all, they are of course difficult to wrap and give on Christmas Day! If you want to give a material gift, don't forget you can always ask your loved one what they would like. I’m sure they will appreciate your effort and you’ll know you are giving a gift that is truly wanted.
Hand-made or sentimental gifts
Many cancer patients tell us the gifts they treasure the most have been the hand-made ones. When Mum was too weak to come to the cinema with us, we brought the cinema to her with a homemade movie night box, which included a couple of DVDs, posh lemonade, sweets and chocolate and of course popcorn. Whilst Mum couldn’t really eat many of the goodies, the kiddies thought it was an amazing afternoon and their infectious enthusiasm rubbed off on Mum who I know really appreciated the thought and effort behind the gift. There are lots of variations you can do on this theme too, such as ‘musical in a box’, ‘pub in a box’ ‘football match in a box’ ‘manicure in a box’ etc.
If you’re a knitting enthusiast, hand knitted blankets are always popular. Photo gifts are also a great idea – we bought Mum a photo mug with a picture of the kiddies on a recent family holiday that we’d taken together, and I know this was appreciated each time it was used.
Boredom relieving gifts
Cancer treatment involves a lot of hanging around waiting… waiting for appointments, waiting for treatment, waiting to feel better… you get the picture. So some really thoughtful gift ideas might focus on boredom relief.
If you want to splash out, a kindle, ipad or other tablet device can help your loved one pass the time during treatment by watching movies, reading books or simply catching up on work or emailing friends. Many cancer patients tell us they enjoy binge watching box sets after treatment days, so an Amazon firestick or Netflix subscription might be well received.
Book lovers may find reading physical books difficult due to the fatigue they are likely to be experiencing, but a magazine subscription or an audio book makes a lovely alternative gift idea.
You could create a personalised music playlist – maybe a relaxing one for treatment days or perhaps some uplifting songs. You could combine this with a pair or wireless headphones which would allow your loved one to listen to music or watch a movie without being disturbed or disturbing others – particularly useful for hospital days.
Crossword, word search or suduko books will come in handy if your loved one likes that sort of thing. Board games are another alternative, but again be mindful of your loved one’s energy levels – some days Mum didn’t even have the energy to watch a DVD with us.
Sometimes the best gift someone going through cancer can receive is one that has nothing to do with being ill. Tickets for an experience day or to a local attraction or a voucher for a local restaurant or spa day, offer the opportunity to spend some quality time together without thinking about cancer.
Some of the gifts Mum appreciated the most while she was having cancer treatment were spa days where we agreed that the word ‘cancer’ wouldn’t be spoken for the day.
However, do be mindful of the stage of your loved one’s treatment - as treatment goes on, your loved one is likely to be more fatigued and they may simply not have the energy for excursions out of the house. But an experience gift could still make a lovely Christmas present with the promise that it can be ‘experienced' in a couple of months – perhaps when treatment has finished, giving them something positive to look forward to.
Practical gifts to help make cancer treatment easier
Cancer comes with a whole host of unwanted side effects. If you know your loved one has been suffering from a particular side effect, an especially thoughtful gift might be to look for something that could help ease those side effects.
Some of the more common side effects include dry skin and lips and whilst you might want to stay away from buying smellies for your loved one during treatment, some unperfumed or ‘clean’ skincare products are likely to be appreciated. We have a wide range of fantastic skincare products which have been recommended to us by other patients due to their natural, gentle, soothing products including; MooGoo, Udderly Smooth, Lindi Skincare (an American brand specifically created for cancer patients) and Meme (a french brand that has also been created for cancer patients). Or take a look at the 'Skincare' section of our online MarketPlace for other ideas.
If your loved one has been suffering from nausea, a selection of products containing mint or ginger might be appreciated. Our most popular ginger related products are Gin Gins Ginger Chews which people seem to find more palatable than the traditional hard-boiled ginger sweet.
We also have a wide range of products to help relieve nausea in the 'Nausea' section of our online MarketPlace.
Taste changes are also common. Many people experience a metallic taste during chemotherapy, especially while eating and this can make food and drink taste awful. One of the ways we suggest trying to alleviate this is to use non-metallic cutlery, so a bamboo cutlery set might make a thoughtful gift. We also recommend sucking on Lemon Sherbets to relieve the metallic taste and one of those retro jars of sweet shop Sherbert Lemons would make a nice gift – I bet the whole
family would enjoy these!
I hope this gives you some inspiration and ideas of how you can continue to support your loved through the festive period and I wish you and your loved one a very Merry Christmas.
Jo, is the founding director of CancerPal. She set up CancerPal to provide the help and support that she was looking for whilst caring for her Mum during her cancer treatment. Jo hopes that CancerPal will help anyone that has been affected by cancer, but she especially hopes that by offering support and advice to the family & friends of those going through cancer, they in turn are better equipped to comfort their loved ones with cancer.
CancerPal stocks a range of products to help ease the side effects of cancer treatment in our online MarketPlace and you may find some more inspiration for thoughtful gift ideas there. We have also put together a selection of Cancer Care Boxes if you're looking for a ready made gift.