Chemotherapy (chemo) is a lifesaving cancer treatment for many people — but it’s also challenging to get through. Many people require chemo treatments for weeks or months. And side effects like fatigue and nausea can take a toll on a person’s physical and mental health.
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You might be wondering what to get someone going through chemo. Maybe you want to support them and boost their spirits, but don’t know what would be helpful. Cancer social worker Lori Scott, LISW-S, provides some inspiration.
You can’t go wrong with these thoughtful gift ideas:
Sometimes, the most meaningful gift is one you don’t have to purchase. “Many people going through chemo tell me that a text, note or a card really makes their day,” says Scott.
Be intentional about your message so the recipient knows you care. “Find out when they have their appointments,” suggests Scott. “Text them when you know they’ll be getting their treatment. A thoughtful message can mean the world to someone who’s overwhelmed or not feeling well.”
Ready-to-eat dinners can be helpful for someone who’s exhausted from chemo treatment. But before you start baking your secret lasagna recipe, consider the person and their needs.
“Meals can be a big help, but there are a lot of variables,” says Scott. “Chemo can change your sense of smell or taste, making certain foods unappealing. Or someone in their family may have special dietary needs.”
If you’re not sure what they can eat, talk to them first. Ask them if they would like a meal and offer a few different options. Make the meal ready to eat, so they don’t have to worry about any preparation.
If cooking isn’t your thing or you’re not sure what they eat, a restaurant gift card is a great way to go.
“Takeout food is convenient — there’s no cooking, cleanup or freezer storage to worry about,” notes Scott. “The person going through chemo can pick out exactly what they want. It can relieve some stress and give them a treat.”
A blanket is a great item to bring to chemo because many people become more sensitive to cold during treatment. Something soft against your skin can feel like a warm hug.
“Infusion centers provide blankets, but there’s nothing like having something cozy that’s your own,” says Scott. “Choose a fabric that’s extra soft and silky, since their skin may be more sensitive.”
If you don’t know a person’s size, you may hesitate to buy them clothing. But several clothing items work well for someone getting chemo — and they don’t require size guessing.
“Many people use hats frequently during chemo,” notes Scott. “They might wish to cover hair loss or simply be colder than normal. Choose a hat that’s soft and stretchy, but not too thick.”
You can also give them a shawl or wrap for their shoulders. “A well-designed wrap is like a blanket, but you can move around in it,” Scott adds. “And soft, fuzzy socks are a great way to keep feet cozy — you can even get some with fun messages or pictures.”
A chemo treatment is a good time to nap, if you’re able to get comfortable. That’s where a well-designed travel pillow comes in.
“A small pillow that can fit in a person’s bag is perfect for chemo treatments,” says Scott. “Choose a pillow specially designed for travel. These pillows support your neck and keep your head from bobbing as you doze in an upright position.”
Everyone needs to stay hydrated — and metal water bottles are a popular gift. But Scott advises you to go with plastic or glass if you’re gifting a bottle to someone going through chemo.
“Many people have a reaction to chemo that makes metal taste bad,” she says. “You can also develop a metallic taste in your mouth from chemo. So, steer clear of stainless-steel bottles. Look for plastic, glass or ceramic instead.”
If metal is bothering your taste buds, the last thing you want to use is a metal fork or spoon.
“Nonmetal flatware can be a great gift,” says Scott. “And it doesn’t have to be throw-away plastic. You can purchase eco-friendly utensils made from wood or bamboo.”
Although it’s an unconventional gift, Scott says thank you cards are also a big hit.
“People going through chemotherapy often like to thank others who have supported them or helped them out,” she points out. “A pack of notes and envelopes makes it easier for them to express their appreciation. You could throw in a book of stamps, too.”
A chemo port is a device placed under the skin that providers use to deliver chemotherapy medications. The port usually goes on the right side of the chest, and can make wearing a seatbelt painful.
A port pillow could be just what that person needs. It’s a small pillow designed to wrap around a seatbelt, taking pressure off the chemo port. You can make your own or purchase one.
“A port pillow protects the chest from rubbing and injury, making car rides much more comfortable,” says Scott. “The pillows come in many colors and patterns.”
Another great gift for someone with a chemo port is a chemo shirt or “port shirt.” This specially designed shirt has zippers at the top that allow easy access to the port during treatments.
“With a chemo shirt, you don’t have to stretch out your shirt to reach your port,” says Scott. “You also don’t have to wear a gown or worry about being exposed during treatment. This gift is best for someone you know well because you need the correct style and size for them. You can purchase them online and in some hospital gift shops.”
Coloring isn’t just for kids. It can be relaxing and soothing for adults — and might be a perfect pastime during chemo treatments.
“An adult coloring book with a set of colored pencils can help relieve stress and pass the time,” suggests Scott. “If the person isn’t into coloring, try crosswords, word search or Sudoku books. Pair them with a nice mechanical pencil, since those don’t require sharpening.”
Almost anyone can find a purpose for a blank book or journal. “You can use a journal to write down how you’re feeling and keep track of symptoms,” she says. “There are also mental health benefits to keeping a gratitude journal. You can also use it to write down things you want to discuss with your healthcare providers.”
Chemotherapy can make skin dry, rough or itchy. Lotions and creams can be a lifesaver, but choose one that’s free of harsh ingredients and fragrances.
“People going through chemo often dislike strong smells,” cautions Scott. “Their skin may also be easily irritated, so they can’t tolerate their usual skincare products. Look for products that are fragrance-free and meant for sensitive skin. Steer clear of any drying ingredients, retinols or acids.”
Everyone has their favorite munchies. If you know what the person likes, get them grab-and-go snacks they can enjoy during their chemo treatment.
“Choose snacks that don’t require a plate or clean up, such as protein bars or dried fruit,” suggests Scott. “It should be something they can throw in their bag that won’t get their hands messy.”
Hard candy is also a nice treat during chemo sessions. “Ginger candies can help soothe nausea,” she adds. “Many people also enjoy lemon or mint candies.”
Best intentions aside, this isn’t the best option:
You might be inclined to stop by your friend’s house to see how they’re doing. Maybe you want to drop off that gift in person as a surprise. Although you might have the best of intentions, stopping by without warning isn’t always helpful.
“People who are going through chemo have a weakened immune system,” explains Scott. “They may want to avoid contact with others so they don’t get sick. Or they might be exhausted, their house is a mess and they don’t want people coming in. Maybe they’re just emotionally drained and don’t want to socialize right now.”
Whatever the reason, always check with someone before you decide to visit. And don’t take it personally if they’re not up for it.
Don’t stress about finding the perfect gift for someone going through chemo. In most cases, the recipient will likely appreciate your gesture, no matter what you give them.
Still, spend some time thinking about what that person would enjoy before you start shopping. An inexpensive, thoughtful gift is more valuable — and meaningful — than an expensive item the person doesn’t need.