Worst gifts to get cancer patients
The 10 Worst Gifts for Cancer Patients -- And What To Get Instead

The 10 Worst Gifts for Cancer Patients -- And What To Get Instead

Dana Donofree
7 min read

The 10 Worst Gifts for Cancer Patients -- And What To Get Instead

When you hear a loved one has cancer, your first instinct may be to get them a gift. That’s a great, thoughtful gesture! But it’s important to note that not all gifts are uplifting or helpful. In fact, some gifts may even be harmful for a cancer patient. Here’s what you need to know about the worst gifts for cancer patients, and we’ll also offer some helpful alternatives to shop instead.

What Makes A Gift A Bad Gift For A Cancer Patient?

When it comes to giving a gift to a cancer patient, you want to make sure that it doesn’t do a disservice, and that it’s something they can actually use and enjoy. Here are some things to consider about your gift that could ultimately do more harm than good. 

  • Physical discomfort. If you want to get your loved one post-surgery recovery bras or clothing, it’s important to remember how sensitive they may be after surgery. Chances are, they’re experiencing pain and soreness that makes it difficult to move. Comfort is key, and ultra-soft, non-irritating designs are your best bet for gifting. Opting for loungewear,  post-surgical bras for breast cancer patients, or a comfy pair of slippers is the way to go.
  • Something that may make them feel anxious or unhappy. Cancer takes patients on an emotional rollercoaster. Since they’re dealing with enough as it is, it’s best to not add to their stress by buying a gift that could make them feel depressed or may remind them of the difficult road ahead of them. Look for something that can take their mind off treatments and doctor’s appointments for a while.
  • A gift they can’t use. When your loved one is diagnosed with cancer, you can’t do all the same activities you used to do with them. They may simply be too tired to take a trip, or their doctor may advise them to stay away from the nail salon. If you’re thinking about taking your friend or family member somewhere as a gift, it might be best to opt for a night in.
  • Something they have to use by a certain time. Perhaps their favorite comedian is putting on a virtual performance and you want to surprise your loved one with tickets. You have to remember, cancer is a constant, unexpected battle, and while you may think this is a great idea, there’s always a chance that they won’t feel well enough to watch the event. Opt for something that your loved one can access at their convenience, so they can enjoy your gift when they’re feeling their best.

The Top 10 Worst Gifts, And What You Can Give Instead

Some of the most common gifts are flowers, balloons, or a spa certificate. While most people would love to receive these tokens of appreciation, you may be surprised to learn that these presents can actually be harmful for people who have cancer. Read on to discover 10 of the worst gifts you could give and how to find a better option.

1. Flowers or Plants

  • Why it’s a bad idea: While flowers may seem like a clear go-to with their bright colors and wonderful aromas, they actually aren’t a good gift for cancer patients. In fact, they may be harmful. That’s because flowers can carry a lot of  bacteria and fungal spores. Healthy people are normally not affected by them, but if your loved one is undergoing chemotherapy, their immune system is suppressed, making it more difficult for them to ward off potential pathogens. Additionally, some people associate flowers with funerals, which could inadvertently bring up feelings of hurt and grief.
  • What you can give instead: Instead of choosing brightly colored flowers that can be a health hazard, opt for a fun room decoration. Anything from a cute painting or tapestry, to twinkling lights, to a figurine are great ways to make your loved one feel special and more at home without posing a risk.

2. Scented Beauty Products

  • Why it’s a bad idea: As much as we love to give spa products to help de-stress and make someone feel more comfortable, scented products aren’t the way to go. When someone is undergoing chemo, their sense of smell can drastically change. What once was their favorite scent could now potentially make them nauseous. They may also have a reaction to the added artificial fragrances.
  • What you can try instead: Just because certain scents make your loved one nauseous doesn’t mean you can’t bring the spa to them. Just opt for unscented products! Unscented lotions, skincare products, bath salts, or oils are perfect for giving your bestie glowing, hydrated skin and a night of pampering without making them feel ill. 

3. Balloons

  • Why it’s a bad idea: While you may think a balloon is a thoughtful gift, it may cause more trouble than it’s worth. A metallic balloon can interfere with electronic equipment, and a latex balloon can trigger an allergic reaction. They’re also banned from some ICUs because the strings could tangle in IV poles and other medical equipment.
  • What you can try instead: If you’re looking for a decoration to brighten up the space, instead of choosing a balloon, you could opt for paper flowers, tissue paper pompoms, or a picture wall. These presents are not only more patient-friendly, but they last longer, too!

4. Alternative Treatments

  • Why it’s a bad idea: While you have good intentions, it’s best to leave the treatment options up to your loved one and their doctor. When a person first becomes diagnosed with cancer, it’s a great deal of stress to choose which treatment option is best. Instead of providing suggestions for treatments aside from what their doctor is recommending, simply give your friend a hand to hold and be there for them.
  • What you can try instead: If you want to help make your friend feel better, you can find natural items that can help with symptoms or side effects that aren’t treatments for their cancer. Ginger candies or tea are great options because ginger is an excellent, natural way to quell nausea, a common and miserable side effect of chemo.

5. Hard To wear, Impractical Clothes

  • Why it’s a bad idea: While a new pair of jeans or a cute little tank top sounds wonderful, it’s highly impractical for cancer patients. Tight, restrictive clothing is something to avoid, as it can constrict and rub uncomfortably against surgical sites, chemo ports, and PICC lines.
  • What you can try instead: A cute sweatsuit, sweater, or  cozy lounge pants are great gift options for someone who’s recovering from surgery or sitting for lengthy chemotherapy treatments. Roomy and adjustable, this type of clothing can help keep your loved one comfortable, and they’re easy to take on and off, too
    Worst gifts to get cancer patients and what to get them instead, a pair of comfortable lounge pants with a hidden drain pocket in the seam

6. Event Tickets

  • Why it’s a bad idea: Especially if your loved one is in the middle of treatment, having a ticket to an event or concert can be overwhelming for them and cause more stress as they worry about potentially missing the event if they don’t feel well.
  • What you can try instead: Odds are, your friend isn’t feeling well enough to be going out and partying. Instead, it’s best to find a gift that revolves around staying in. Something like a new video game, renting a movie at home, or a couple of fun games to play together would be ideal. 

7. Sexy Lingerie

  • Why it’s a bad idea: When someone is going through a huge body change, you may think buying lingerie is an intriguing way to bring their sexy back and boost their confidence. While the thought is definitely there (and not invalid -- your loved one deserves to  feel sexy post mastectomy!), most lingerie won’t work for someone who’s going through cancer or underwent a mastectomy.
  • What you can try instead: Instead of buying stiff lingerie with painful underwire, it’s best to opt for something a bit cozier.  Lingerie at AnaOno is completely underwire-free and is made with super-soft modal fabric. Our lingerie is pocketed, too, so your BFF can wear breast forms or choose to go flat in their new ‘fit. This way, your loved one can still feel sexy in their new body all while continuing to stay comfortable. 

Shop Mastectomy Lingerie From AnaOno

8. Calls Just To Say “Get Well Soon”

  • Why it’s a bad idea: Get well-calls have the right idea, but can come off as disingenuous. They last a few minutes and your friend will probably forget what you said minutes after talking.
  • What you can try instead: Forget the calls and write a heartfelt letter. This letter can last a lifetime, and truly shows how much effort you put into showing the recipient you care. Plus, they can read and re-read your letter whenever they’re feeling like they need a pick-me-up.

9. Going Out For Dinner

  • Why it’s a bad idea: Just like the event tickets we mentioned earlier, your loved one may not feel ready to go back out yet, even if it’s something as “small” as a dinner for two. They may not feel ready to be out in social settings yet, or they may feel like they don’t have the energy to do these things. Either way, it’s best to respect their wishes.
  • What you can try instead: Instead of going out, create a fun night in. You can bring different snacks and set up a themed date night. A few common ideas could be indoor camping, cooking dinner together, a movie night, or a stay-at-home spa. 

10. A Cozy Blanket

  • Why it’s a bad idea: Don’t get it wrong, everyone loves a cozy blanket – and probably has a few too many. Most hospitals or clinics will very likely provide a blanket for your loved one during their stay. While it is a good idea, you can do better than giving something basic that your friend or family member likely already has.
  • What you can try instead: Especially if your friend is undergoing chemo, instead of opting for a cozy blanket, choose a warm hat or headscarf. This practical gift will not only keep them nice and toasty no matter where they go, but it’s also an added accessory for their new look.

Choose A Meaningful, Practical Gift For A Loved One With Cancer

Now that you have a long list of ideas that you could potentially give your loved one, it’s time to narrow it down. Remember, the best gifts are always the ones that come from the heart and mean something to the person you’re giving them to. If that means giving them an at-home spa day so they can have some time to rest and relax, some  post mastectomy lingerie to help them feel their groove again, or a heartfelt letter to let them know how much they mean to you, each of these are great ideas, as long as it comes from you.

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Dana Donofree
Dana Donofree

Founder and CEO of AnaOno. After a diagnosis of breast cancer in her late 20’s, Dana took her own lived experience and fashion design background and (re)designed intimates for those that have undergone breast surgery. Dana’s story has been published around the world in outlets like New York Times, BBC, Huffington Post, The Today Show, and more.