Your elderly aunt, a long-time work colleague — your best friend. Someone very dear to you is going through breast cancer. Whether newly diagnosed or actively surviving, a special gift that bears witness to the cancer experience (and helps soften the blow) is very welcome. Consider these 10 gifts that will make life just a little bit better for friends and family with cancer.
Newly diagnosed patients crave information beyond what the doctors have time to give. Point your friend to the question and answer section of this site, where she can browse existing articles, or ask a question of our patient experts. For those comfortable with online browsing, Breastcancer.org is a trusted resource. And if a book by the bedside is more your friend’s speed, “Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book” has been guiding breast cancer patients for decades. Look for the most recent (sixth) edition.
2. Button-front shirts
Breast cancer treatment can be a physical assault to everything from the waist up! Especially if your friend is having a mastectomy, a button-front shirt is a godsend; surgery makes it difficult to raise your arms, and buttons in front give easiest access to healing scars that might need daily treatment.
3. Social media smiles
Your friend or loved one probably has a Facebook account; never mind the sad condolences, start posting jokes to her wall! If Twitter is her favorite communication tool, tweet her links to your favorite web pages, from shopping sites to HONY. Instagram? Share your favorite funny videos.
4. A protective scarf/shawl
Your friend undergoing chemotherapy probably already has a collection of hats and scarves to protect her head. But what she might not realize is that a newly exposed neck is just a vulnerable, to cold and heat both. A comfy, warm scarf to ward off the cold (or light shawl to prevent sunburn) are very welcome.
5. Help with payment paperwork
If there’s one thing that makes the cancer experience even worse than it is, it’s paying for treatment. Whether your friend needs help navigating the choppy waters of Medicare paperwork or finding creative ways to come up with staggering co-pays, a clear head (and take-charge manner) are a huge help. Hint: start with the hospital’s social work department; they’re a wealth of information around dealing with the financial side of cancer.
6. Inexpensive jewelry
When I was going through chemo, I looked forward to the new pair of sparkly, dangly earrings a friend gave me just before each treatment. Throughout my entire cancer treatment, I wore a thin braided bracelet another friend had crafted for me. Simple jewelry is a good reminder that you’re there for her.
Before the internet there were magazines; and with the typical hospital’s often spotty or confusing Wi-Fi access, magazines can take a woman out of her surroundings into a world without chemo, radiation, or surgical drains. Choose fat, glossy travel magazines, or anything else light and happy; now’s not the time for a dreary trudge through world politics!
8. Streaming service
Nothing helps defeat cancer’s grip on the emotions like spending time away from its reality. Signing your friend up for online access to Netflix (DVD delivery if she’s not a tech whiz), Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, or Filmstruck (for fans of old movies) is a wonderful timeout from an often painful present.
9. Chore cards
Cancer treatment takes time, whether it’s a daily trip to the hospital for radiation, or being laid up at home after surgery. Yet family life goes on. Give your friend a set of “chore cards” offering specific ways you can help: e.g., providing snacks for the soccer team, going grocery shopping, or weeding the garden. For many women, it feels less needy cashing in a personal gift card than straight-out asking for help.
Cancer is a kick in the gut, and breast cancer patients and survivors often feel incredibly emotional. Your friend may be desperately scared at the prospect of a mastectomy; or buoyant after a good pathology report. Either way, she’ll welcome the feeling of your arms around her in a big, warm hug.
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Breast cancer survivor and award-winning authorPJ Hamel, a long-time contributor to the HealthCentral community, counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She founded and manages a large and active online survivor support network.