Gifts for the Cancer Patient and Caregivers

Comfort and Warmth

Socks. Seriously. Socks. I got wool socks and slippery fuzzy socks and If You Can Read This Bring Me Coffee socks. And my feet would have been so cold otherwise. But now they are both warm and funny. Before that, I only had running socks, not great for the hospital or Minnesota winter.

Softest blanket in the world. Softest anything in the world. Don’t worry about color or style. One of my best friends sent me a red and white blanket and what I see when I snuggle up with it (literally every time I sleep or sit ever since surgery), I only see her, our friendship, and her care for me. Of course the color is beautiful because she is awesome and has good taste.

Cute and comfortable clothes that fit around their particular cancer. Shirts or sweaters with low, open necks for head or neck cancers, that easily pull over their heads or are button up so they don’t have to pull them on at all.

Slouchy pants. For the hospital, for after, for looking relaxed but stylish, with pants that are easy to pull on and off if they are in pain, exhausted, or need to get them off! (like this pair from Athleta)

Ice packs or heating pads. These might be for the wound, if surgery. For the burning sensation after radiation, or for snuggling with during the wild roller coaster rides of hot flashes and chills.


Soul Food

Soup. Chicken noodle, chicken wild rice, tomato, black bean, tortilla soup…soup. Warm, easy to swallow, healthy, delicious. Homemade or from a restaurant or the deli section of a grocery store…

Chocolate. Any and all. (the link is for Lindt. Hint, hint.)

Mints. Something to suck on during waiting room periods or after bad tasting treatments or to counter the grossness of medicines. (this is a link for specifically Fight Cancer mints. Starlite mints are also delish.)

Gift card to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Some kinds of chemo or radiation (or my treatment: RAI radioactive iodine) can affect taste buds. Either by burning them, swelling them, or just changing them. I threw out a cup of coffee one day because it tasted like burned metal. Made a second cup, from the same beans, and it tasted great. Weird. #blamethecancer So a gift card enables the patient to get what might taste right that day, to their weird taste buds.


Beauty and Humanity

Pedicure or manicure. Also, pretty nail polish, again a gift idea for people like me, who don’t have a lot of disposable cash. Or, ask if you can give them a pedicure or manicure yourself.

Do their makeup, or hold up a mirror so they can do it. Especially if they are in the hospital for a few days. The first day I put on makeup (and I am an extreme minimalist in terms of beauty products), I felt my morale swing upwards.

Lotion. Skin dries out from treatments, cold, surgery.

Essential oils. My doctor even had some for me to put on my surgical gown. Hospitals and sick rooms smell gross. This can really pick up the mood. (I haven’t used the product specifically linked to here, full disclosure)

Cute headbands, scarves, or hats. Even if they haven’t lost their hair, or won’t, they might be cold if they’re in the hospital for a while, or just want to feel pretty while their face is puffy and their scars heal. There are a lot of cute ones out there.

Hair appointment. Depending, this one is sensitive, I know, so check in on how they are feeling and doing with their hair. My kind of cancer and treatment (most likely) does not affect hair. Maybe a hair cut or color, maybe just a fun up-do.

Time out together, or in their home or hospital room when you don’t talk about cancer. I’m so thankful that I got to participate in my soon-to-be new sister-in-law’s wedding dress appointment and cake tasting. I was exhausted and have foggy memories of these events as they were three days post-surgery, but I’m so glad I could participate and feel human and also celebrate and focus on someone else for a while (she’s awesome, way to go, Kevin!). A friend had to drive me to these events, and wait for me, and drive me back. What service and practical love that showed me.



Movies (even a list of suggested titles, no need to spend a lot of money. Chemo brain fog or post surgery exhaustion makes it hard to make decisions or even remember things, like what we were watching before)

Puzzles. I do puzzles as mindless, relaxing therapy. In fact, I have an article forthcoming from the New York Times(!) about just this thing. A friend sat with me, three days post-surgery, and we did a hot air balloon puzzle as long as I could stay sitting up. We talked and I felt like I wasn’t utterly boring to her, and also that I had been mildly productive.

Books. Audio or print or digital.

Or gift cards for these things.


Stress Relief

Tea. Chamomile, turmeric, lemon ginger, apple cinnamon, vanilla…

Sleep mask.

Massage. A gift card or just give them one when you visit. Again, this isn’t about big money. You’re visiting, that’s awesome. Rub their feet or their hands or their shoulders. Post-surgery, my upper back ached like crazy, from the position my head had been in during surgery.

Cancer Sucks mug. I put this under stress relief because it is funny, which relieves stress. My sister sent me mine and when I drink from it, it gives me a little reminder that yeah, this is hard. Coffee (or tea or hot chocolate) is also delicious. It tells me to enjoy the deliciousness in the midst of the sucky thing. In other words, to fight for joy and to be thankful.

Something for their spouse and children. Babysitting, date night, something fun and not cancer related, a chance to be a kid or a man or a woman.


Merry Christmas and I hope that whoever in your life has cancer will feel blessed, held, comforted, provided for, and loved. And that, you, the caregiver and loved one also feel blessed, held, comforted, provided for, and loved.

Any other great ideas for cancer patient gifts?

p.s. This is also a list for cancer patient caregivers. You need lovin’, too.

*contains affiliate links

Gift Guide for Expatriates, 2018

Not all expatriates are diplomats or educators or in the military. Many are, or start off their expat experience as, immigrants and refugees, students and season employees.

So when you think about gifts for the expatriate in your life, let me challenge you to think about the new refugee kid in your child’s classroom or the new immigrant employee in the office or the foreign exchange student at the college in your town.

If the expat in your life is someone you are physically close to, invite them over for a holiday dinner. Better yet, invite several over and make it a potluck. Global potlucks are the best. If they are a brand new arrival, invite them to do a local holiday highlight event: sledding, Christmas caroling, a holiday parade, a gingerbread extravaganza, the lighting of the city’s tree, a musical concert (loads of colleges and universities have free choir and band concerts at this time of year).

Use the holiday season as an excuse to open up your heart and life to the new arrival in your neighborhood, workplace, school, or church. That gift of relationship, to be cliche, will give back to both of you the whole year through.

Now, for actual gift items…

A language learning app, like Rosetta Stone.

Carry-on luggage. There are some really cool carry-on bags these days, including smart bags that include USB charging ports or bags with apps that connect with your phone so you’ll never lose it and you’ll know when it arrives at baggage claim. Personally, I’m in favor of expandable bags as we often travel with gifts or return with bags full of produce or other items, so it is nice to be flexible.

Kindle. I love my Kindle. From eliminating half the weight in my luggage due to books to accessing library books and ebooks, Kindles have been one of the absolute best inventions for expatriates. I know a lot of people can read on their phones, but phones are so dang small. I still use my Kindle for most of my reading. It is about 8 years old now…

Travel pillow. I’ve never had a travel pillow. Still don’t. Always wish I did but have never just sucked it up and bought one. I’ve probably spent weeks of my life on planes and nary a neck support. Do your expat one better, gift them a high quality travel pillow.

Portable hard drive. With all of our photos, movies, research, educational materials, etc, on these devices, expats are often in need of a new one.

Scrubba laundry bag. I haven’t personally used one of these, but several friends have brought them on camping trips or on globe-trotting trips from country to country.

Subscriptions like Spotify, Netflix, Amazon Prime…

Photo calendar from your family or of their favorite passport country places. Same goes for personalized mugs or notebooks or coasters…Use a service like Shutterfly.

Food from home. Anything from packaged pumpkin spice (I can’t get it in Djibouti) to the fudge that somehow manages to come to Djibouti year after year (thank you Karen!) to a bag of Starbucks.

An experience, or contribution toward an experience in their host country. Maybe SCUBA diving or whale sharking, maybe a night out an expensive, splurgey restaurant…make the offer and let them choose.

Expats, what have been some of your favorite gifts over the years?

*contains affiliate links

*see this page for 2017 ideas

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