People with cancer, whether they’re in treatment, in remission, or in limbo are different now than before their diagnosis, both psychologically and physically. Some folks talk about cancer as a one-year experience from diagnosis through treatment and into remission. It’s “one and done.” Those folks have been lucky.
Many are not so lucky because they struggle with depression or anxiety, long after their treatment is completed and may suffer permanent side-effects from treatment, such as neuropathy, hot flashes, chemo brain, and hearing loss among others.
If you’re close enough to a person with cancer to give them a holiday gift, then you’re likely also close enough to be relatively familiar with their lasting effects. Everyone is different, and it helps to understand specific needs.
My list of eight focuses on comfort and peace of mind.
- Notebook, pen, and Timothy Wilson’s Redirect. Choose a notebook that would be easy to write in while lying down, with a sturdy cardboard back. Notebooks bound at the top are usually easier to write in, too. You can find lovely notebooks made by Rhodia and Moleskine that are top-bound. With regard to pens, again choose something that can be used while lying down. I recommend a felt tip. My favorite at the moment is Staedtler, which you can find at Blick's among other places. They come in a huge range of colors so you’ll probably need three or four. Finally, get a copy of Wilson’s book, which explains the importance that writing plays in healing and coping. It has exercises and prompts that anyone struggling with trauma can benefit from.
- Blanket. I’d say more than half of the folks I know with cancer, especially those currently in treatment, are cold most of the time. Choose something soft and non-scratchy. Think snuggly. It would be nice if it was in a color scheme that complements the person’s decor.
- Portable Fan. Women can suffer early menopause because of treatment and may have hot flashes. Despite the culture around us that tends to make fun of them, hot flashes can be brutal and disruptive. A small portable fan, especially battery operated, could be just the ticket.
- CD or download of a good meditation. Two of my favorites are Jon Kabat-Zinn and Ronald Siegel. Everyone has their own taste, but do some research for your friend or loved one. Find a variety and listen to them yourself. For me, fifteen minutes in meditation can provide strength in rough times.
- A cookbook. Both during treatment and after, tastebuds can change. Rebecca Katz’s book, The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, provides lots of insight about how to accommodate common food issues during cancer, and she also focuses on healthy foods. You might give your friend the book, along with a token saying that you’ll make one or two of the dishes that they choose on a day that they choose.
- Coloring book. Choose one with large areas to color that don’t require huge amounts of concentration. The point of this gift is to provide a diversion and an easy task. You can also include a pack of colored pencils.
- Gift certificate for a physical therapist, a personal trainer, or a yoga class. Learning how to live in a new body, or in an old body that may be the worse for wear, can be challenging for some. Some physical therapists focus on rehabilitation especially for cancer survivors. Gentle yoga or chair yoga is also a good possibility. The goal of this gift it to provide support for getting back some strength and energy.
- Cures. What we all need are cures for cancer. A sustained, focused contribution to a research-based organization, donated in your friend’s name, is a great way to honor them. Some groups that I particularly like are Metup, which is an advocacy group for folks with Stage Four breast cancer, St. Baldrick’s, which focuses on children’s cancers, and BCAN, the bladder cancer advocacy network. You could also start a team to raise money in your friend’s name for whatever organization supports and advocates for their particular kind of cancer.
We all need to be seen, acknowledged, and heard. We all need hope. Sometimes just being present is the best gift you can give, whether a person has had cancer or not.
Here’s wishing you a peaceful holiday.
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