Do you know a child with cancer? Are you wondering what kind of gift to give them? As one who was on the receiving end for quite some time, I’m hoping to give a little insight on giving get-well gifts. There are do’s and don’ts- some are quite obvious, while others perhaps only someone who’s gone through it can realize. But all hope to ease that “what do I get them” feeling and create a better giving/receiving experience for both the patient and the people who care about them.
Coming home from the hospital after a tough round of chemo, I’d slip on my fuzzy socks, grab my softest stuffed animal, and snuggle beneath my coziest blanket in my most comfortable pj’s. Comfort….it’s all about comfort. That’s why anything plush or fluffy goes over big with anyone who’s ill, especially a child. Whether it’s a big stuffed bear to hug during chemo or a pillow to jam your face in on hard day, the level of comfort that something soft can provide is overlooked. I have memories of struggle, before being instantly put at ease by my warm, downy blanket. Something so simple can create feelings of comfort and security in a time of chaos. This, in turn, gives the child hope, and therefore, more strength to keep fighting. So…what is the lesson to be learned? Don’t underestimate the power of softness!!
While a first instinct may be to get the child his or her favorite foods, this is a big don’t as far as I’m concerned. There are many mini don’ts involved in this one. First off, you may not know of a special diet initiated by the child’s physician, making a gift of something that they cannot eat more of a taunt than a thoughtful get well wish. Secondly, chemo twists the senses so that smells and tastes have the potential to instantly turn the stomach. Also, perhaps the child has bad associations with the food you brought, and receiving it will evoke unpleasant memories. Lastly, even if you think that the receiver will be elated with that plate of their favorite cookies, chances are, you are ruining their desire for them. After their treatment, they may never want to eat them again because it was something they ate when they were sick. In short, leave it to mom and the hospital cafeteria to provide food for a cancer kid.
This is a broad category filled with all sorts of options! Basically, anything that provides distraction for the sick child. This may be a toy, game, movie, ect…there are tons of things out there! There are just some basic guidelines. Whatever it is should be simple and not require the child to expend a lot of energy. There’s nothing worse than staring at your new gift wishing that you felt well enough to play with it. Sometimes little things like those urchin-looking balls that puff out when you squeeze them, are the perfect balance of simplicity and ease, yet distraction. I personally also loved when that easy, distracting “something” was productive. Puzzles, Rubik’s Cubes, and origami kits gave me a feeling of accomplishment while still bound to lying in bed all day. This helped me to feel good about myself, give me short term goals, and keep my focus on minute to minute activities besides things revolving around treatment. Yay for distraction!
Don’t: Smelly Stuff
You’re probably asking yourself, “Huh? Smelly stuff??”. Yes…smelly stuff. Somewhat along the same lines as food, gifts that have a scent or even just a strong smell are, I believe, a big no-no. Cancer patients, especially children, have strong olfactory connections with treatment and feeling sick. Bubble bath, lip gloss, or even that doll that smells like strawberries may seem like a good idea, but soon bad associations with likely leave them collecting dust or thrown away all together. After the child has recovered, or even days after receiving the gift, it can be connected with bad memories and actually cause the child to feel sick when smelling it again. I found that the smell of the lip gloss I used often during my battle to find a diagnosis was far too disturbing to use afterward. It ended up in the trash, still half full. So, if you pick a possible gift off the shelves and find it emitting a strong and distinct scent, it is in you and your recipient’s best interest that you just put it back.
Hopefully these do’s and don’ts have made it a little easier to find the perfect gift for a child with cancer. While all kids are different and may enjoy different things, these are the tips I have learned through my own experience. And when it all comes down to it, it is not so much what the gift is, but the love that is behind it that makes it special and meaningful.
Originally Published: August 2, 2011