Gift Ideas for Cancer Patients: What to Avoid

Hands holding a small present wrapped with a red bow

Holiday shopping guide for a friend or loved one with cancer

Cancer patients have a wide variety of emotional and physical needs. You’ll want to find products that combat the effects of radiation and chemotherapy and make recovery from surgery a little easier. Certain things are prohibited during treatment and often times trigger negative reactions.

Here are some of the most common things you'll want to avoid this holiday season along with some alternative gift options that are sure to make any patient feel loved.

  • Don’t buy flowers. Plants and flowers harbor fungal spores that place patients — especially blood and marrow transplant (BMT) patients — at risk for infection. Additionally, flowers may trigger emotional distress when the plant wilts and dies.
    Do buy handmade paper flowers, silk flowers, hand-blown glass flowers or fresh fruit bouquets.
  • Don’t buy perfumes or scented toiletries. Radiation and chemotherapy alter sense of smell. Smells that are usually pleasant become unbearable or too strong to cancer patients and increase nausea.
    Do buy unscented lotions and lip balms. Dry skin and lips are a side effect of chemotherapy so lotions and chapsticks are a great choice as long as they are unscented.
  • Don’t buy sweets or candy. Most patients have dietary restrictions or follow nutrition guidelines that limit sugar. Additionally, chemo alters tastebuds and causes mouthsores that make eating certain foods more difficult.
    Do buy a gift certificate to their favorite grocery store. That way they can buy healthy, nutritious foods at their leisure.

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  • Don’t buy sad movies or books. The last thing a patient wants is to feel sad and depressed.
    Do buy a good, light-hearted novel, a funny movie, a new album or a magazine subscription. It will offer your friend or loved one a brief mental and emotional escape from their diagnosis and treatment.
  • Don’t buy balloons. Latex or rubber balloons could trigger allergic reactions. Additionally, metallic or mylar balloons are not permitted in ICU due to potential interference with electronic medical equipment.
    Do buy vinyl window or wall clings, artwork or a decorative picture frame filled with a sentimental photo.
  • Dont buy get well cards. This may not be true for every cancer patient, but the phrase get well soon sometimes reminds patients of the months or years of treatments and surgeries they have ahead of them.
    Do buy a blank card with a personalized, hand-written note or a hand-made gift. Sometimes gifts that cost nothing at all are the most precious to a patient.