When someone you care for is unwell due to a cancer diagnosis, it is only natural to want to send them a gift to show you are thinking of them, particularly at Christmas. However, it can be very difficult to know what to send if you haven’t been through cancer yourself.
Christmas is an incredibly difficult time for those facing a serious illness. Images of the ‘perfect Christmas’ are everywhere – adverts, magazines and all over social media – and can be a painful reminder of the restrictions either physically or emotionally that this time of year brings. Those who are undergoing treatment for cancer are often advised to avoid busy and crowded places, which can be particularly challenging during the busy festival season. Nasty side-effects combined with fatigue also help to dampen the season cheer. But knowing that you are loved and supported can really help. Buying a gift for someone who is unwell is, of course, a lovely thing to do, but buying a gift that shows consideration, care and thought, that is where the true value of the gift lies.
Here at Not Another Bunch Of Flowers, we wish to provide you with our unique Christmas guide to help you buy a suitable and meaningful gift for someone with cancer this Christmas.
Flowers are lovely, but tend to be the first thing that people think of when someone is sick, so the result can often be an overwhelming number. Why not send a thoughtful gift that will stand out from all of the flowers and last longer?
Practical gifts are greatly appreciated…
A care package full of useful items is always a hit! Suggestions include headwear, puzzle and colouring books to keep minds busy and entertained, button-front pyjamas, things to help with nausea, an eyemask and earplugs for hospital stays and natural toiletries to help protect skin and provide some much-deserved pampering
…as are little treats
Treats to lift the spirits will also go down well. Unfortunately many of our usual treats may not be appropriate during treatment. As immune systems are hit by chemo, many cancer patients will avoid crowded places such as cinemas and theatres, most spas won’t treat people going through treatment, and food may hold no pleasure due to nausea and altered taste. However, we may spend more time cozied up at home as we recover from surgery or our latest treatment session, so warming, home comforts and pampering gifts are much appreciated. Think pretty lounge-wear, cosy hot water bottles, a natural bath oil, magazines and candles.
Avoid anything too clinical
Some gifts might appear to be really useful such as a thermometer, or a giant size tub of E45, but we get enough of the clinical stuff with our constant hospital appointments. Gifts that are too clinical only act to reaffirm that we are unwell. Something to take our minds off this and make us feel more ‘normal’ is much more appreciated.
Be aware of ingredients
Some cancer patients are advised to or opt to avoid certain ingredients. They may choose to cut sugar and/or dairy out of their diet, meaning edible treats such as cakes, chocolates and candy may go to waste. Similarly with pampering treats, many cancer patients prefer more natural toiletries that don’t contain nasties such as parabens and SLS. They may also find strong fragrances nauseating and there are some essential oils that are best avoided during treatment. So if you are selecting some body and bath treats, natural and organic is probably best.
It is probably safer to avoid comedy gifts
OK, if you’re very close to the cancer patient, and you know for sure that they will find the gift funny, then go for it - anything to cheer us up is very welcome. However, if you’re not sure, I would avoid it. Cancer is a serious illness and the emotional stress cannot be underestimated, it is a daily rollercoaster of emotions. You don’t want to belittle their feelings with a gift that ends up upsetting them rather than making them laugh.
Be very careful with self-help books
There are thousands of cancer self-help books out there and many offer conflicting advice and opinions, leading to feelings of confusion and fear. Others unfortunately do not have a happy ending. So, if you want to send your friend some helpful books, ensure the message is encouraging and positive and that they don’t scaremonger. Most people are likely to have researched their own information on diet and treatment options including alternative and holistic therapies so respect their decisions and try not to interfere or comment on them.
Speak from the heart
When choosing the words to accompany your gift, speak from heart. Try to avoid meaningless clichés and platitudes such as ‘you’ll be fine’ as it belittles our very real fears. There are some brilliantly designed cards by cancer survivor Emily McDowell that help you find appropriate words when you might be struggling. There are also specific Christmas cards that recognise this year might be a struggle for some. Christmas may not be the most wonderful time of the year for your loved one, so make sure you acknowledge that.
Practical and emotional support is maybe the greatest gift of all
Living with cancer is hard, it is relentless, exhausting and emotional. However when you are unwell during the Christmas festivities these feelings can be amplified. Everyone appears to have so much going on, busy out and having fun, that you can end up feeling even more isolated. Being offered practical and emotional support from loved ones can be invaluable. Giving a gift does not have to cost the earth, it could be a matter of giving your time. Anything from helping with the school run, walking the dog, offering a lift to hospital to simply offering a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on may be the greatest gift you could give someone this Christmas.
Anikka Burton is the founder of Not Another Bunch Of Flowers and was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33.