Is there a woman with breast cancer on your holiday shopping list? Finding the right gift needn’t be difficult if you think about how her treatments are affecting her.
1. If she’s about to start chemo, she’s probably worried about losing her hair, so pretty hats and scarves can be fun. Even hip, “bald is beautiful” gals will be covering up when the weather gets cold. I never understood how important hair is for keeping us warm until I was bald.
2. During treatment, and for months afterwards, she’ll probably be fighting fatigue, so a gift of service will be welcome. Consider gift cards to restaurants that have healthy, simple food available for takeout. Many cancer patients are reluctant to ask for help, but if you give them a homemade “coupon” good for your offer of childcare, a ride to appointments, or a meal, that reluctance may vanish.
A service I could have used during my treatment for inflammatory breast cancer was housecleaning. My husband and teen-aged son were doing most of the cooking, shopping, and dishwashing, so the other cleaning chores were pretty low on the “to do” list. You’d have to know a person well enough to know whether she might feel insulted by a gift certificate to a house cleaning service, but from a real friend, it would be a wonderful help.
3. For women who are in the surgery stage, how about a beautiful, feminine nightgown with a HIGH neckline, so she can still feel lovely without showing scars?
4. Pretty blouses that button up the front help people who have trouble getting their arms over their heads in the first days after surgery.
5. When spirits are low during treatment, a little pampering is called for. How about body lotion with no fragrance added? I developed an allergy to scents while in treatment, and lots of people on chemo react to strong scents, so ask before getting her perfumed products. Lymphedema therapists emphasize the importance of keeping skin soft and in good condition. A rich body cream would be a great “pampering” gift.
6. Ask before getting someone a gift card for some of those other pampering services such as manicures/pedicures, or massages. Some people worry about infections in the nail salon, and there are differences of opinion about the use of massage for patients on chemo.
7. An engrossing book was my best way to cope with waiting in doctors’ offices. Look for inspirational and humorous titles. Some cancer-related titles I’ve enjoyed are Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book by Love and Lindsay(great basic reference book), Saving Graces by Elizabeth Edward_s_, Ice Bound by Jerri Nilsson and Mary Anne Vollers, and Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy by Geralyn Lucas. But, don’t limit yourself to cancer titles. If she has always loved mysteries or biographies, get her one of those.
8. Comedy and cheerful movie videos are good. If she’s housebound, the gift of your time to watch them with her will be welcome too. Laughter sometimes is the best medicine, and shared laughter is even better.
9. Listening to music was an important part of healing for me. A gift of uplifting tunes could help renew her spirit. Look for songs in the genres she enjoys. A hard rock fan isn’t suddenly going to like listening to New Age rainforest sounds just because she’s in radiation.
10. The cancer patient you are shopping for is going through a profound experience that will be life-changing in many ways. Remember, however, that she’s still the same person she’s always been in the most basic ways. So the gift you’d choose before her diagnosis may be what she would most like to receive this holiday season.
Phyllis Johnson is an inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) survivor diagnosed in 1998. She has written about cancer for HealthCentral since 2007. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the oldest 501(3)© organization focused on research for IBC. She is a list monitor for an online support group at www.ibcsupport.org. Phyllis attends conferences such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD® Institute. She tweets at @mrsphjohnson.