Gift ideas for cancer patients

Find the right gifts for cancer patients
When considering a gift, it’s important to remember that every patient’s cancer journey is unique and often shape by a variety of special circumstances.

No matter the time of year, whether it's Valentine's Day, the holiday season or someone's birthday, it can be challenging to find gifts for cancer patients.

When considering a gift for a loved one undergoing cancer treatment, it’s important to remember that every patient’s cancer journey is unique and often shape by a variety of special circumstances, including:

  • His or her type and stage of cancer
  • The treatment he or she has undergone
  • The symptoms of the disease and side effects of treatment

Even if your friend or family member has completed treatment, you’ll want to avoid certain gifts. Think twice about giving a gift certificate for a massage, for example. A therapist with little or no training in working with cancer patients may inadvertently worsen the swelling and pain associated with lymphedema. How about a mani-pedi? If a salon’s tools are not sanitized properly, your loved one may get an infection, putting him or her at risk for potential complications.

“It’s also important to be aware of your loved one’s personal approach to his or her illness,” says Sheryl Atlas, Manager of Lori’s Gifts at City of Hope® Cancer Center Phoenix.

The right gift for the right patient

Based her experiences working with cancer patients and their caregivers, Atlas offers three scenarios to consider as you ponder your gift options:

Is your loved one a “cancer warrior”?

These patients, who are open and vigorous about their cancer battle, often appreciate gifts that offer inspiration. Consider t-shirts or bracelets for the whole family in the color that symbolizes your loved one’s cancer type. Or give a pillow or wall decoration that displays words of encouragement, such as “Hope,” “Loved” or a spiritual quotation. “Inspirational gifts show your support in tangible ways and remind patients to look forward on days when they’re feeling low,” Atlas says.

Does your loved one crave comfort?

A soft, warm blanket, port pillow or plush teddy bear are a few gift ideas Atlas suggests to help bring comfort and reduce stress during treatment sessions. “You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate something soft to hold onto or snuggle into, since hospitals are often chilly,” she explains.

Has your loved one been recently diagnosed?

A friendly phone call, video chat or in-person visit may be just what your loved one needs. Most cancer patients appreciate having someone listen to their questions and concerns as they sort out and come to terms with their diagnosis and treatments. Your sympathetic ear, without giving advice or passing judgement, may be the best gift during this difficult time.

Gift ideas for cancer patients

Still not sure of the best gift to express your love and support? Here’s a list of 15 holiday ideas for cancer patients:


An enticing new novel, biography or nonfiction reading material may make the time pass faster as your loved one waits for medical appointments or undergoes chemotherapy infusions. Take a look at this list of inspirational book titles from Goodreads as a first step. For the foodie on your list, you can also find suggestions for healthy-eating cookbooks.

Cards or notes

Small gestures like sending a card or letter may go a long way toward comforting your loved one. Knowing you're thinking of him or her and sending positive energy may be especially comforting on difficult days. One option is to create an inspirational word jar. Simply write uplifting messages and place them in a jar or box you've decorated for the holidays.

Cleaning and lawn services

Juggling cancer treatment along with the everyday responsibilities of work, family and pets is often exhausting. Those who pride themselves on a clean home or neat yard may become anxious or depressed if they don’t have the energy to keep up with everything. Buying a few months’ worth of a cleaning or lawn service may reduce this worry and bring your loved one a much-needed sense of order.

Electronic gadgets

Portable, handheld gaming devices are a great way to pass the time for a gamer who’s sidelined by surgery or treatment. The same goes for a subscription to TV streaming services that allow your loved one to binge-watch current and past seasons of favorite TV shows or catch up on movies. You may also want to throw in a pair of wireless headphones or ear buds. Other electronic gift ideas include:

  • A portable charging station with multiple ports to charge devices simultaneously
  • A 6-foot or 10-foot charging cord for a longer reach when a power outlet isn’t located near the bed or sofa
  • Personal voice assistant, so your loved one can search for information—like which restaurants deliver or what time the pharmacy closes—without leaving the couch

Fashionable gifts

Women who have undergone a mastectomy or lost their hair during chemotherapy may feel self-conscious about their appearance. Consider buying your friend a hat, scarf or warm beanie, depending on her personal style.

Games and puzzles

Cancer patients may face physical limitations during treatment but still enjoy engaging their brains. Thousands of game-playing apps are available on Google Play or the Apple Store. To gift an app, you can purchase a gift certificate or buy the app on your device and tap the share button on the app's Store page. If your loved one prefers printed activities, consider adult coloring books, sudoku, 10-minute crosswords, word finds or The New York Times crossword books.

Gift cards

Gift cards are helpful in many situations. Some of the most frequently requested gift cards are for restaurants, food delivery, groceries, gas stations and car services. Also, consider gift cards for more indulgent items designed to lift your friend’s spirits—maybe it’s for his or her favorite retail store or to pursue a new interest like guided meditation, gentle yoga or bird watching.

Finding the right holiday gift for a cancer patient may be difficult.

Grooming gifts

Some patients may not have the energy or ability to take a shower, especially after surgery. Make personal grooming easier by filling a gift basket with dry shampoo and travel sizes of her preferred hair spray, foundation, mascara and blush or his favorite aftershave or lotion. Since cancer treatments may affect patients’ sense of smell, stick with fragrance-free options.

Homemade meals

Little warms the heart like a home-cooked meal. Before diving into your loved one’s favorite recipes, be sure to ask about nutritional needs and diet restrictions. Some ingredients may interfere with cancer medications. For patients needing longer-term support, consider enlisting friends, family and neighbors to volunteer for a meal delivery rotation, or encourage them to donate toward the family’s grocery bill or takeout budget.

Insulated water bottle

Doctors advise cancer patients to stay hydrated, so make it easier for your loved one to drink plenty of water with a plastic or glass bottle that keeps liquids cool. Avoid metal water bottles if your loved one is undergoing chemotherapy, since this treatment may already cause foods and liquids to taste metallic.

Meal delivery service

The options are more plentiful than ever, and many services pride themselves on delivering fresh, nutritious prepared meals that can be simply heated and eaten. Or, if the patient and family are up to it, meal kits with premeasured ingredients and easy-to-follow recipes may be fun for the family to do together.

Plush pillow and/or neck cushion

It’s likely your loved one is taking more naps since he or she began treatment. A neck pillow for dozing while sitting up may help prevent a stiff neck caused by falling asleep with his or her head unsupported. If your loved one likes to read or work in bed, a lap desk may be helpful, too.

Soft clothes or blankets

Some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy, cause the skin to become hypersensitive. A pair of soft pajamas, warm socks and slippers or a fleece robe are luxurious treats for your loved one to enjoy during the winter months. They’re also especially useful for treatment rooms any time of the year, since hospitals are often chilly.

Tote bag or gift basket

Not sure of your loved one’s size or taste? Put together a pretty tote bag or gift basket of thoughtful items especially for cancer patients. Options may include ginger chews (to help with nausea), coloring books and colored pencils, handheld games or game books, lip balm, unscented hand lotion, magazines, healthy snacks (nuts, popcorn or granola). A travel toothbrush, toothpaste and alcohol-free mouthwash may also make for nice additions.

Your time

Most cancer treatments leave patients fatigued at one point or another. Since many are embarrassed to ask for help, consider offering specific services. Tell your loved one you’re coming over to do laundry, go grocery shopping or walk the dog, and ask which other errands you can do. If appropriate, ask whether you can help shuttle children to and from school and activities. If time is a luxury you don’t have, pool your resources with friends or co-workers. Start a signup sheet, and encourage others to volunteer for specific tasks.

Lori's Gifts offers a variety of thoughtful gift ideas for cancer patients.

Gift shops at City of Hope

If you’re looking for a thoughtful gift for your loved one with cancer, consider stopping by Lori’s Gifts, located just off the main lobby at City of Hope hospitals in:

The shops offer a variety of gifts, from jewelry, clothing, blankets, stuffed animals, inspirational books, keepsakes, journals, snacks and more.

If you’re unable to visit a loved one in the hospital, Lori’s Gifts offers convenient ways to browse their stores’ selections and send your gift directly to your loved one at the hospital. Just click on the e-commerce link on your hospital’s gift shop page. Lori’s offers free same-day delivery to patient rooms.

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