It’s difficult to know what to say or how to act around someone diagnosed with cancer.
I felt guilty as I slid the ‘Get Well Soon’ card into the recycling bin. I’d only just read it after excitingly tearing it open in the rare occasion that a hand-written envelope came through my letterbox. But the words on the front of the card just filled me with tears… ‘Get Well Soon’.
I was 33 years old, newlywed (I literally found a lump on my honeymoon!) and was diagnosed with a grade 3 tumor. There was no guarantee of survival; cancer is so unpredictable, so receiving a ‘Get Well Soon’ card just made me want to sulk.
It’s difficult to know what to say or how to act around someone diagnosed with cancer. The person that sent me this card simply wanted to let me know that they were thinking of me and to send me their well wishes but for me, the cancer patient, it made me really upset.
My friends and family got really creative when I was going through the cancer treatment; little hand-made and sentimental gifts that really made me smile through such a horrible time in my life. My cousin cut out a red and white heart from old fabric and stitched them onto a black t-shirt. I wore it for every chemotherapy session and it made me smile every time I put it on. Also a good friend of mine put old photos of us together and videos from her camera phone onto a DVD and scrolled on it ‘Happy days to remember and make you smile’.
Sometimes, gifts that cost nothing at all are the most precious; when I was first diagnosed, a work colleague suggested I choose a song to become my ‘fighting cancer’ anthem. So after a fun-filled morning of selecting the most appropriate tune, I decided on ‘Eye of the Tiger’ by Survivor, the theme tune to the film Rocky. Whenever I needed any encouragement I’d play this song, or if it came on the radio it’d make me smile (it still does!) and when I came through all of the treatment we sang this song at the top of our lungs at a karaoke bar. If there’s a song that is personal to you both, or a song that you think will life her spirits, pop it on CD and tell her to listen to it anytime she feels the need for a boost.
Here are some more great gift ideas…
1. If you do want to send a card to someone who is dealing with cancer, how about a ‘Thinking of You’ or a ‘blank’ card with positive words of encouragement and honesty? Say that cancer is hard, tell them that you’re there for them whenever they need you to be and if you are stuck for words, something simple like ‘I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you’ is enough.
2. So that she doesn’t feel isolated from the outside world, a yearly magazine subscription (Marie Claire obviously!) will keep her inspired with great stories, fashion and beauty.
3. A DVD box set of a TV series or film trilogy that she hasn’t yet seen.
4. Comedy films, TV shows or stand-up live shows on DVD (laughter is the best medicine!).
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5. Beauty items i.e. nail polish, false lashes, skin brush.
6. Sugar free mints, gum, sweets are always useful as her mouth can get really dry from the treatment and it can also affect her taste buds, so the mint will keep her feeling fresh.
7. Non-perfumed shower gel, bubble bath and body lotion won’t cause skin irritation whilst keeping her body hydrated.
8. Hire a cleaner for the duration of her treatment or offer to go help and clean for her. She needs to keep hygiene a top priority so that the risk of infection is low.
9. Why not make a hamper of goodies.
Whatever you decide to buy, make it personal from you and explain to her why you chose it. It’ll hopefully become something she’ll treasure forever and it will remind her of how supportive you were during a really difficult time.
Katherine Formosa Bown is the author of Your Guide Through Her Breast Cancer Journey, a guide for someone to support their loved one through breast cancer. Covering everything from diagnosis and treatment to coming out the other end, but most importantly it explains clearly how loved ones can make a real difference with easy-to-understand explanations, tips and advice.
Available to buy on Kindle (£2.05) and paperback (£6.99) from Amazon.