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Cancer Caregiver Gifts

October 1, 2021

Since PCS cancer caregivers are friends or relatives who often go unpaid, giving them a thoughtful, useful gift is a great way to express your gratitude for all of their effort and support. Luckily, there are many ways to say thank you.


Of course, gift-giving can feel awkward at times, so here are some helpful tips for picking out the right item for the cancer caregiver in your life.

The do's and don’ts of caregiver gifts

If you’re concerned enough to be reading an article about how to give a good gift, you’re already showing that you really want to get it right.


There are selfish gift-givers out there – people who buy items out of a sense of obligation, feel like their “job” is done once it’s handed to the recipient, or expect some big gesture of thanks in return. But if your gift-giving is truly tied to a sense of love, respect, and/or gratitude, just keep these things in mind while you pick something out and you’ll be on the right track:

Be thoughtful

It sounds like a no-brainer, but when we head out to buy a gift, we’re often so stressed about getting it right that we stand around racking our brains and staring at items that all seem like empty tokens of appreciation. The key to good gift-giving is being thoughtful – and that means truly spending time thinking about what the recipient likes or needs in advance instead of just picking up the nearest candle while you’re doing your regular shopping.


Here are some more specific things to consider:

·       Have you heard them talk about cherished gifts before?

·       Do they truly enjoy practical items or do they often treat themselves to little luxuries?

·       Will your gift really help them or delight them? And is it something worth spending money on? 

·       Is this gift something that will do more harm than good (for example, will that candle spoil the indoor air quality a lung cancer patient needs so desperately or pose a fire hazard)?

Show them that you listen

Whether the holidays are coming up or you’re thinking of an impromptu gift of appreciation, try to recall conversations that might hold hints to the perfect gift. Maybe the caregiver has told you that it’s been years since they had a specific treat or that there’s a book they’ve been meaning to read.


You can also start a conversation to get them to drop some hints. But there’s no need to feel shy about gift-giving. Try asking them if there’s something they’d like! Say something along the lines of:


“I would really love to show you how much I appreciate your effort/think you’re doing a wonderful job by getting you a gift. Is there anything special on your wish list?”


Of course, plenty of people will say it’s not necessary or tell you to save your money. But we do tend to subconsciously drop hints after the question is brought up. That’s the time for you to listen.

Include a note with your gift

Notes are both practical and thoughtful. First, they act as a record of the gift and who it’s from. That can be a huge help to a cancer caregiver who is overwhelmed and needs some extra time to say thanks.


But even if your gift misses the mark, your note can convey your love or gratitude. A lot of feeling can be conveyed in short and sweet remarks, so you don’t need to be worried about becoming a wordsmith. In fact, a genuine note of thanks can be a gift in itself and a memento that they can look at when they’re feeling down.

Don't give caregivers something that requires extra work

Is the cancer caregiver in your life trying to manage their responsibilities with no time to spare? Then maybe an exotic houseplant is the last thing they need right now. Or perhaps they like to cook but don’t have the fancy spices that half of the recipes in a new cookbook require. 


Try to avoid anything that requires extra elements like assembly or something that would force them to buy more things or rearrange the house (unless they’ve dropped a hint about it).


And always keep in mind the person they’re caring for (as well as any kids and pets in the home) that would make a gift unsuitable.

Don't give caregivers something that could affect their health

That candle or air freshener with the overwhelming scent could aggravate allergies. Equally, a new piece of workout gear or low-calorie cookbook can potentially fail too if it implies they’re unhealthy. Our health and weight are frequently related to stress – so you want to take the stress away, not assume that the recipient is ignoring their body.


You also need to be careful with food gifts. Allergies can be very serious (especially nut allergies), and sweets and candies may interfere with dietary restrictions they are keeping to themselves.


Make your gift something that takes their mind off their problems, not something that highlights them.

Gifting your services to cancer caregivers

Not all of us have the money to go buy the gifts we’d like to give the caregivers in our lives. But the truth is, good gifts don’t have to be store-bought.


Try offering to do one of the following (as long as you do it in a way that doesn’t imply the caregiver isn’t capable of keeping up with the task themselves):


·       Help with doing or folding laundry

·       Food shopping

·       Meal prep

·       An offer to spend time with the person who needs care


Of course, some people truly don’t want to delegate these tasks or take the time to explain how to do them. They may not feel comfortable leaving their loved one alone with anyone else. It’s important to respect that. And it’s also important not to make offers too vague, leaving the caregiver to reach out and ask for help.

If you’re going to offer up the gift of your time and service, a good way to start the conversation may be to simply say something like this:


“Caregiving is a lot of work and you’re doing a great job. If I can ever give you some of my time by [insert chore], I’d love to do that for you so you can take a break and have some time to yourself. I’m free [insert times]. Do you think that would be helpful?”


That gives the caregiver the chance to hear that you care, to know that you’re doing this so they can have the gift of time, and to know the specifics of what you can do for them – these things really help them say yes.


Just don’t be offended if the caregiver turns you down. There will be other opportunities to show them you care when they’re ready.


Giving physical gifts to cancer caregivers

If you do have money to spend and you’re committed to buying a gift that is thoughtful, useful, and stress-free, here are some items a caregiver may appreciate:

A journal

Not everyone loves to write, but journaling has been shown to be a good way of coping with stress - and it’s even been found to improve immune function!


Gift cards

If cash seems too crass but you want the caregiver to be able to choose something they really want or need, a gift card really is a great option.


Some people feel like this is a low-effort gift, but there are so many cases where the recipient might really love the gift of shopping for themselves instead of having someone else pick an item out for them. Just be sure to include a note saying something along those lines if you feel like it’s too impersonal.


A personalized gift

If you know which item a person might like, personalizing can be a great way to make sure everyone knows it belongs to them. Your gift can be as simple as a sleep mask, mug, or wine/whiskey glass/water bottle with their initials.


A monthly subscription

Whether it’s a television sports package so they can watch their favorite team or a monthly flower delivery, subscriptions are truly the gift that keeps on giving.


Just be sure it’s a subscription for something they enjoy, otherwise you’re just giving them something to throw away or re-gift every month.


A self-care package

Putting together a self-care package is a great way to give caregivers an opportunity to relax on their own time. But ask yourself: Are bath products right if they don’t have a peaceful bathtub to relax in? Could scented lotions irritate sensitive skin? That will help you narrow down the contents.


If you don’t know the answer to any of these things, lovely gifts like luxurious washcloths, bath towels, or a robe along with a nice note may be ideal.


A book or movie pass

Perhaps you know there’s a new book coming out from the caregiver’s favorite author or a movie they would like to see in a theater or stream at home. These are great gifts that allow caregivers to take a moment for themselves on their own schedules.


Baked goods

Again, always be careful with food. But if you know a wonderful loaf of bread or some seasonal muffins would go a long way in showing someone you care, take advantage of the opportunity.


You can also grab inexpensive boxes and ribbons to dress it up so they don’t have to wash and care for your serving dishes.

A massage

Be sure your recipient feels comfortable with being given a massage before you choose this gift – plenty of people don’t enjoy being touched by strangers.


But if you get the go-ahead, a great way to make a massage truly stress-free is to see if an in-home massage is a possibility or be sure the massage therapist is close by (and perhaps already familiar to the caregiver).


If you’re really looking to make it a stress-free experience, call the massage therapist ahead of time and leave the tip, telling them to notify the recipient in advance so there’s nothing they need to do other than enjoy their massage and then leave when they’re ready.


The importance of showing you care


If you’re at a loss for ideas about an item to purchase for the cancer caregiver in your life, look to things that can help them truly de-stress. And always be sure your gift doesn’t add any extra pressure to their already busy lives.


The other thing you need to remember is that the gift is about them, not you. Make sure gifts don’t create obligations that the caregiver might stress about later.


If all else fails, just ask them if there’s a gift they have in mind. And if budget is an issue, an acknowledgement of the good work they’re doing can often be more valuable than anything that fits in a box.