Has someone you know recently been diagnosed with cancer? Want to buy them a gift to let them know you are thinking of them, but not sure what to get?
Care packages have become popular in the UK. They often include products that will help someone going through chemotherapy and other treatments cope with the side effects. The only problem is, some of these gifts can be quite expensive.
Writing as someone who finished six months of chemotherapy in September (try not to imagine me sitting here without my wig on!), I can tell you that over-priced baskets of almost mass-produced cancer care packages are nowhere near as nice as ones you can put together yourself. Below, you will find a list of very ordinary but super-important things a cancer patient really needs.
Practical Gifts For Cancer Patients
A good pair of slippers – During treatment, it is really important that a cancer patient avoids infection. Walking around the house barefoot is a definite no-no. Even a small cut can lead to an infection that could require hospitalisation.
A thermometer – Accurate temperature readings are a necessity to detect any problems, including life-threatening sepsis, early. I took mine to my pre-chemo appointment to check it was up to the job.
Mild toothpaste and a very soft toothbrush – A good, mild toothpaste is an absolute must, along with a very soft toothbrush. During chemotherapy, the mouth and tongue can become dry and sore. A toothpaste that will help in the production of saliva, like Biotene, is ideal. Looking after the mouth is essential, not just because of the risk of infection but because dryness can speed up or even cause tooth decay – and dental work is normally another no-no during treatment. Avoiding bleeding gums is also very important.
Thick, soft, loose socks – I call these ‘chemo socks’. During chemotherapy, patients can experience tingling or neuropathy that can affect the feet. I found this type of sock acted like a shock absorber, reducing the tingling and the build-up of very dry, hard skin on the heels.
Fragrance-free hand cream – Cancer treatment has a drying effect on the hands. Skin can become thin and chap easily. To keep it supple and free of infection, hydration is important. Go for a brand that will deliver super-moisturisation. A pair of good Marigolds are also a ‘must’ to avoid cuts when washing up.
Body lotion – Again, fragrance-free. This is important for the arms, legs and face, where the skin can flake like a snowstorm.
A silk cap or scarf – You’d be surprised how many cancer patients buy wigs and never end up wearing them. I’ve got two – a dark one and a long blonde one. Honestly? I’ve only worn them for selfies! Mind you, we are in a pandemic and the opportunity to get out and about has been virtually zero. So a good silk cap or scarf will get a lot more use. A silk cap will help to prevent irritation of the scalp during hair loss, which usually starts to occur two weeks after the first chemotherapy treatment.
Alcohol-free mouthwash – A really good alcohol-free mouthwash is essential. It should be used regularly throughout the day (morning, night and after meals) to keep the mouth free of bacteria and to help ease any soreness. If the mouth is really painful, oncologists and GPs can prescribe ‘magic mouthwash’.
Lip balm – The lips can really suffer during treatment. A good lip balm will offer relief and, again, prevent breaks in the skin.
Chocolates and treats – Yes! Steroids can make you ultra hungry. It’s important that a range of foods are on offer during treatment because tastes, and appetites, can alter wildly.
Anti-sickness teas and boiled sweets – Some people swear by products with ginger in, including tea. These can help ease mild bouts of nausea. However, medication is routinely prescribed to keep it in check. I have got about six boxes of ‘anti sickness’ teas – and not one has been opened.
Mild body wash – I recommend Sanex.
Towels – Cancer patients are not advised to share towels, so an extra set could be just the job.
Flavoured water or squash – Tap water gets boring, trust me. After a chemo session, cancer patients are urged to drink up to two litres of water a day. Easier said than done. I used to manage about one-and-a-half, at a push.
Nail clippers – It’s important to keep nails trimmed and clean.
Cosmocol and Imodium – Sadly, cancer treatments can cause both constipation and diarrhoea. It pays to be proactive and to take action as soon as a problem occurs. Having some over-the-counter medication immediately to hand can save a lot of discomfort and the potential need for medical intervention.
Craft set or a good book – You would be surprised how much sitting around you do when you’ve got cancer. A puzzle or craft set can be a real godsend. I took up diamond painting during chemo and now have two amazing, finished pictures framed and on my kitchen wall. I also made one for my sister and one for my granddaughter. A book will come in handy for hospital visits. Chemo sessions can take as long as seven hours.
Things To Avoid Giving A Cancer Patient
Flowers and pot plants – Spores and fungus from cut flowers or potted plants can be dangerous for a cancer patient, causing infection.
Non-prescribed supplements – They could have an adverse interaction with cancer drugs.
Sea bands – This type of product can definitely ward off nausea. However, they are not recommended for patients getting treatment through their veins. Seek advice before using.
Click images of featured products for further information and prices.
For further information, advice or support, visit Macmillan Cancer Support.