From the moment I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, and to this day, I have been so amazed and humbled by the outpouring of love and support from friends, family and even strangers. I suspect anyone who’s faced extensive treatment, surgeries and monitoring will tell you the financial toll of cancer is so much bigger than they imagined.
Even with “good” insurance, bills pile up for deductibles, out-of-network services (sometimes from doctors or tools you didn’t even know were part of a surgery or hospital stay), medications and supplements, any kind of holistic or alternative options, and the loss of income for many who can’t continue working as they fight cancer and its complications. Kind messages and gifts are such a blessing to a person or family climbing this mountain.
But what are the best gifts for breast cancer patients?
I receive this question all the time from people who’d love to send a friend or relative something meaningful and helpful. So I’ve finally compiled a list of some of the best gifts for breast cancer patients — with a caveat. There are many types of breast cancer and a wide variety of treatment plans. So, below you’ll find several lists: a gift list that’s good for anyone facing this diagnosis, but also lists for those undergoing specific challenges like chemo, radiation and/or mastectomy surgery.
One more thing! It is important to communicate to the recipient of your gift that you do not need a response or thank you! As gifts and cards roll in, the task of writing thank you notes (or even texts) can be really daunting. Free patients from this obligation by letting them know you don’t expect to hear back. I created a print-out of this “no response needed” design; feel free to download, print out and cut the squares to insert inside a card or tape to a package.
Great Gifts For Anyone Facing Breast Cancer
Soft, Comfy Blanket: Whether you’re tired or shivering all the time, a good blanket is a godsend. I’ve received some gorgeous handmade blankets that I took with me to treatments and wrapped myself up in at home. I also received this Chanasya blanket with affirming words printed on it, and it’s so soft my family still fights over it!
Restaurant Meal Delivery: Many cancer patients have issues with appetite and taste changes, so while homemade meals are incredibly thoughtful, they’re not always practical. I also have picky eaters in my household, so it was far more helpful to receive gift cards to our family’s favorite take-out restaurants. Check to see if the person you want to support has a Meal Train account, which allows people to drop off specific meals (homemade or takeout) on certain days. If you know their favorite restaurants, great! Otherwise, you cansend a gift card to a meal delivery service like Door Dash or GrubHub (just make sure a good number of restaurants deliver to their address).
Subscription to a grocery delivery service: Right after my diagnosis, we received a year’s subscription to Shipt and it was so great — even before COVID hit — to have groceries delivered to our doorstep. A yearlong membership typically costs $99, but is available for $10 off with this link. We love Shipt because it includes deliveries from Target, but you can also check with a person’s favorite grocery store chain to see if they offer delivery service.
CanPlan Cancer Planner: I wish I had known about this at the start of my diagnosis! I made my own trackers and binders, but this CanPlan Planner is brilliant — you can track treatments, appointments, progress and more all in one place. There are even pages for writing in notable blood count numbers, etc — so smart! Adding a set of inspiring pencils or pens like these would be a sweet gesture, too. 🙂
Launch a Shirt Campaign: If you have the patient’s permission, a shirt campaign is a cool way to raise money for them while literally wearing your support. I was really hesitant at first because I felt uncomfortable accepting money from people. But when my friend Michael designed this cute shirt using my site’s logo and one of my mantras, “find the good,” how could I resist!? She launched this Bonfire shirt campaign and we’ve been blown away by the number of people who have ordered shirts. It is still such a day brightener when I see someone in one!
House Cleanings & Home Help: It is so hard to find the energy and motivation to clean, yet it’s important to keep your home germ-free when you’re in treatment. Cleaning for a Reason is a national charity that partners cleaning services across the country to provide one free house cleaning for cancer patients. We loved the service that did ours, so friends actually pooled together money to pay for additional cleanings. So awesome! Meanwhile, if you’re close with the patient and great at decorating, consider offering to decorate for the holidays, tend to their garden, rake their leaves, or anything that would take manual labor off their plate and add beauty to their space. I recently had a group of friends offer to decorate our front step for fall — something I didn’t have the energy or mobility for due to some health complications — and it makes me happy every time I look at it!
Soft and Snarky Socks: I got lots of socks in the early days of my journey, and I wore them all. I especially loved super soft ones like these Soothing Spa Socks from Dr Scholls and super snarky ones like these naughty kitty ones.
Thoughtful or Funny Cancer Cards: I always got a kick out of getting a handwritten card that was specific to my situation. It’s one of the reasons I added some of my own spirit-lifting options to my greeting card line. But I also love cards made by Better & Co. like the one pictured at left and Emily McDowell’s line of spot-on Empathy Cards.
Treatment Specific: Great Gifts For Patients in Chemotherapy
For those going through chemo infusion treatments, it really messes with the senses, changing a person’s sense of taste and heightening their sense of smell. So I do not recommend sending any kind of food or scented gifts. Here’s what you can send…
Lemons of Love Chemo Care Kits: There are quite a few services that send gift boxes for a hefty price to cancer patients, but they’re often full of crap a chemo patient can’t use. The one I received via Lemons of Love, though, was thoughtfully curated and super cute. They have handstitched bags you can take with you to infusions or bright yellow boxes; both include practical items from lemon drops (great for those who have lost their sense of taste) to mini wallets for carrying your credit cards & ID to appointments.
Nail Care Before or After Chemo: Oncologists do not allow patients to get their nails done while they’re undergoing cancer treatments due to the risk of infection. However, most patients can get their nails done right before infusions begin, and it’s so nice to be pampered when you’re so anxious and worried, so a gift certificate for a manicure or pedicure is lovely. Certain types of chemo can destroy nails, so after a person is done with all their treatments, a gift certificate to a spa that specializes in treating “chemo nails” is great, too. I lost four toenails and my fingernails looked like they belonged to a zombie; though it took a little research, I found a place that knew how to gently work with my nails and use natural filler to form decent-looking nails.
Soft Head Coverings: If the patient you love is choosing not to wear a wig during their hair loss, it’s great to have a wide range of headscarves and warm caps available. Even if they are wearing a wig during the day, having a soft, nightcap helps keep them warm. I loved the Cate & Levi Sleep Hats and wore mine to bed every night. I also found great designs via Headcovers Unlimited, which even offers gift registries for patients who want to request certain hats or scarves. They also have a store section on Amazon, which can help with shipping costs if you have Prime.
Water Tumbler: It’s really important to stay hydrated during treatment, and I always took a giant tumbler of flavored water with me to the infusion center. These Kate Spade tumblers with silicone straws were perfect because they are large, pretty, insulated to keep drinks cold and my taste buds couldn’t handle drinking water out of a metal container. This citrus-themed one (pictured) would be adorable as a care package with lemon drops and lemon water enhancer (like True Lemon packets).
Skin and Mouth Care Must-Haves: Chemo wreaks havoc on the body, often causing mouth sores, chapped lips and incredibly dry skin. After much trial and error, some of my go-to remedies included:
Mouth Rinse: Biotene Moisturizing Mouth Wash used multiple times a day
Face Washing: LaRoche-Posay hydrating facial cleanser
Face Lotions: CeraVe Night Cream and Eau Thermale Avene Tolérance Extrême Cream for my face during the day
Hand & Feet Lotion: Epionce Medical Barrier Cream
Lip Balm: Aquaphor Lip Repair
Treatment Specific: Great Gifts For Mastectomy Patients
Some of these items may also be helpful for women who undergo a lumpectomy surgery, but I am sharing what was helpful to me having a bilateral (double) mastectomy and axillary dissection (removal of lymph nodes).
Post-Mastectomy Pillows: My friend Lei, who underwent a mastectomy herself, actually made these darling heart pillows for me. They’re not only cute, but super functional — they add padding when you put them under your arms as you’re sitting, which is great because your sides can be so sore. Here’s a tutorial on how to make them but you can also purchase them on Etsy. It’s also helpful to have a special pillow to take in the car (protecting you from the seat belt) and sit with comfortably at home; here are some designs via Amazon, but you can find others with a simple Google search.
Adhesive Drain Pockets: Mastectomy patients have drains with tubes hanging from them, which are cumbersome and uncomfortable; I had mine in for 21 days. We purchased button-down shirts with interior pockets sewn in, but I wish I’d known about Pink Pockets sooner! They are adhesive pockets you just stick to the fabric inside your shirt so that you can tuck the drains and tubes into any shirt you like. Super smart!
Button PJs and Zipper Tops: Speaking of drains, patients need to wear oversized shirts, pajamas and hoodies that make it easy to access bandages and drains. Softness is key, too! There are even camisoles and tank tops like this one available for those in warm weather.
Mastectomy Recovery Lift Chair: After your hospital stay, the ideal place to recover and sleep at home is in a recliner lift chair like these. They can be expensive, but I cannot imagine having recovered without the one that was donated to me for a couple of months! In multiple cities there are organizations that deliver donated chairs for a person’s recovery period (though some are not doing this while COVID is still an issue). The Healing Chair serves patients in Kansas and Missouri. The Recovery Chair serves patients in south New Jersey. The Pink Chair Project delivers to patients in Connecticut. Google your area to see if a similar service might be available.
Treatment Specific: Great Gifts For Radiation Patients
There’s a myth floating around that radiation is a breeze compared to other treatments, but it totally depends on the number of rounds of radiation, the level of radiation and area targeted, and your body’s sensitivity. It can suck the energy right out of you, and also cause painful burns, blistering and bleeding (trust me). So radiation patients need tender loving care, too.
Give Them a Lift: Typically, patients have to go to radiation at a hospital or cancer center every single day for many weeks, driving back and forth daily. If a person doesn’t have consistent or reliable transportation, offering to drive or giving them a Lyft or Uber gift card is a godsend. If they prefer to drive, consider giving them a gas card or money for parking (it adds up if your center doesn’t provide free parking!).
Brighten Their Days: Going day after day to radiation can feel grueling, especially as the weeks go on and you start to feel worse. A surprise bouquet of flowers, a thoughtful card or a treat left on their front step can brighten a patient’s day — especially at a time when they have to be so careful about COVID and interacting with others.
Intensive Skin Care: There are lots of different theories about the best products for treating radiated skin (all patients are supposed to moisturize multiple times a day). But you can never have too many lotions and creams! But you want ones that don’t contain lots of harsh chemicals or fragrances. My favorites were basic Shea’s cocoa butter and Fruit of the Earth’s 100% aloe gel. Those worked great for the first weeks and also for months after radiation was over, but when my burns got really bad, my radiation oncologist had me use Aloe Vesta and ProShield.
I hope this offers you some creative and comforting ideas for the brave hearts in your life facing breast cancer. And know that it is never too late to reach out; one of the biggest frustrations of many cancer patients is the sense among friends and family that as soon as active treatment ends, the challenges do, too. But for many, there are long-lasting side effects, medications, complications and monitoring. I still occasionally receive a card or gift and it means so much to me to know that someone is still thinking of and offering light for my journey and well-being.
Meanwhile, if you know someone who dies of breast cancer (or any illness), keep in mind that their families’ needs don’t end when that person’s life ends. Reaching out on milestone occasions (birthdays, anniversaries, etc) or just out of the blue is a beautiful thing to do.
If you want to know more about what it’s like inside CancerLand, and coming to grips with serious illness, check out my new project — SOS: Speaking of Stardust, created for and in memory of my dear friend Kelly, who bravely lived with metastatic breast cancer until February 2020. You can follow the project on Instagram and learn more about it here.
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