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Perfect Gifts for a Woman With Cancer

Many people wonder what type of gift to give to a woman with cancer, whether it's meant to express hope during treatment, or as a normal sentiment during the holidays. What can you give to a person with cancer to show you truly care?

If you haven't experienced cancer yourself, you may feel at a loss as you wander through stores. It's hard to really know what's it like to live with cancer unless you have walked in those shoes. You may also have heard rumors that some well-intentioned gifts can be painful, such as gifts that remind women of the changes in their body due to cancer.

Fortunately, those living with cancer don't expect you to know what it's like. After all, before their diagnosis they were in the same place. Here are some tips and ideas to help you find that perfect gift.


Comfort is Key in Choosing a Gift

Cancer gift Woman in white robe

Chris Bernard

When undergoing cancer treatments comfort is key. Treatments bring hard plastic chairs, uncomfortable examination tables, and cold clinics and hospital rooms. And that's just when your friend feels good enough to leave home.

Consider investing in the softest and coziest of socks, slippers, pajamas, or robes. Sheepskin and chenille items are comfortable and popular. Or, perhaps a warm and luxurious shawl or fleece blanket is the perfect way to wrap her in love and comfort. The fuzzier, the better!

Don't worry about what color or pattern she would prefer. Many women, in fact, would appreciate a color or pattern which reflect your personal tastes and preferences. In that way, she will have a little bit of you with her during those often long and lonely days of cancer treatment. You may even want to add a little note that describes the meaning behind your gift, such as "Here's a little warmth for the times I can't be with you."  


Think Stress Relief When Buying a Gift

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

The jury is still out on whether or not stress reduction improves survival with cancer. Yet regardless of any survival advantage, we know that stress is uncomfortable and reduces anyone's quality of life.

Super soft aromatherapy pillows, eye masks, or teddy bears can offer stress relief for a woman who is undergoing surgery or dealing with body aches and pains. The microbeads and natural oils within these products may enhance psychological and physical well-being.

A note enclosed with such a gift that tells your friend she can "vent" with you anytime she needs, would be a plus. Far too many people with cancer are told that they have to keep a positive attitude. We don't have any studies showing that remaining positive all the time improves survival, but we do know that holding back negative emotions can raise stress levels.

In addition to a gift that says stress relief, offer your friend the opportunity to talk about her less-than-positive emotions to get them off her chest.


Keep 'em Entertained

Cancer Entertainment way
JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

Activity levels will wane during active cancer treatment, ​and cancer fatigue is a given. Consider giving her uplifting books, movies, and music that will brighten her day in the comfort of her home. 

While an engrossing thriller, mystery, biography, or comedy might be just the ticket, at times a topic-specific may be what she really needs. Cancer-related best sellers include:

  • "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

It's important to note that some women would rather get as far away from cancer as they can, and cancer-related books might not be the best choice. Think about what your friend would like. Books and movies can be an excellent way to escape the world of cancer for a few hours. If you don't know what books or movies your friend might like, think of sharing your own favorites. You may just help her find a new author or passion.


Warmth and Style are Great in a Gift

Cancer patient Smiling African American woman attaching earring
Peter Griffith / Getty Images

Hair thinning or chemotherapy-related hair loss is common during cancer treatment and is especially troublesome as the weather turns cold. Even women who wish to go "Au natural" may change their mind quickly when the temperature drops.

Colorful hats and scarves may be just what she needs to put some spring back into her step. Pretty bandanas can also keep her covered up in style. Along with the scarf, however, let her know that she is beautiful just as she is, and can "take off her hair" around you.


Food for the Soul

Cancer gift Couple cooking in kitchen at home
Westend61 / Getty Images

When you don’t know what else to give, gift certificates to a favorite restaurant or movie theater can be fun. Be sure, however, to find a restaurant with a wide menu selection as taste buds often change during cancer treatment and “old favorites” can be subject to new allergies and sensitivities. Add to the gift certificate a selection of yummy teas, and you’ll be sure to please!

Sometimes going out to dinner during cancer treatment can be just too much of an effort, but there are many "make your own" and "pick up fresh" establishments available in larger cities. A gift certificate to one of these might just do the trick, especially if your friend ordinarily likes to cook for her family but is too tired to do so. Unlike the home-delivered meals many women receive, these establishments will allow her to make her own choices and still have home cooked meals.


Pamper Her

cancer relaxation massage
Getty Images: Jada

Pampering someone with cancer can be tricky. A gift certificate for a massage may sound like a good idea at first but, in reality, may be unbearable due to lymphedema, surgeries, or painful joints. 

Take care with soaps, lotions, and spa gift sets—even most organic products may contain scents or irritants that sadly, she may not be able to tolerate right now.

If this is a gift that you truly want to give, here are a few tips to make it work:

  • Call around. Ask boutiques and salons if they carry specialty products designed for cancer patients. 
  • Try products like moisturizing gloves that do not contain harmful ingredients. 
  • Give gift certificates. That way she can pick out what she really needs.
  • Make sure the gift is fully refundable.

Dazzle Her with *Bling*

Breast Cancer Awareness gift


Whether sick or well, jewelry is almost always a girl’s best friend.  Many stores, in person and online, sell Breast Cancer Awareness bracelets or necklaces with the proceeds going to cancer research. There are also bracelets and more for nearly any type of cancer if it is not breast cancer your friend is coping with. If pink is not her style, try a simple charm of “Hope”, “Joy”, “Courage”, or “Love”.


Personalize It

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

 Many times the best gift is not material at all. Design and print a homemade coupon for “one day of housecleaning on me”, or “a night-in, menu ala [YOUR NAME]”, or “grocery shopping for a week”. Personalized gift certificates are endearing and always come in handy when the patient isn’t feeling 100 percent herself.

It's important, however, to make these gift certificates very specific. Simply writing an hour of "help" will usually result in the gift certificate going to waste. Think about ways in which your friend needs help. Perhaps it is two hours of window washing, help with planting the flower boxes in the front of the house, or cooking up your children's favorite dish.

Specific "gift cards" are often welcomed by those who don't care to make one more decision.


Every Dollar Counts

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

Invest in cancer research in her honor. If your friend is one of those people who "has everything" or at least has everything you can afford, a better alternative may be recognizing her in supporting an organization that does not have everything it needs.

Nearly all cancer research organizations hospitals, and societies maintain charitable programs that allow you to make one-time gifts, monthly gifts, and legacy giving. Year-end financial reports will list the areas of research in which each institute invests and the percentage of each dollar directed to administrative costs (i.e., F&A).  Reap the tax benefits as well! 

If she has  a cancer other than breast cancer, take the time to learn about cancer organizations devoted to specific cancers. From ​LUNGevity for lung cancer survivors to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, many of these organizations could use the extra help and may also devote a greater percentage of their bottom line to supporting people with cancer and looking for cures.