When you know someone is going through a rough time, you want to do something tangible to comfort them. But many times, we just don’t know where to start when it comes to gifts. As some of you may know, I recently completed treatment for breast cancer, which means I can share with you what worked for me – what I loved, what was useful, what brought me joy.
Obviously, the best gift is your presence. Not necessarily in the physical sense, although that, too, but mostly in the way that means the person who is sick knows that you see them and that you are there, witnessing and loving. If you want to fix them a meal or help out with household stuff because their caregiver is likely overwhelmed, that’s wonderful but I would suggest checking with a Designated Person (everyone needs a designated person, usually a close friend) who can tell you important information like what would be most helpful and what foods are welcome so you don’t end up making a casserole that they’ll politely thank you for and then stick in the fridge for a week. If you’re in doubt, though, just DO something. Anything. Your kindness is always noticed and appreciated.
But if we’re talking about stuff, here are some of my very favorites that helped me get through the badness. I think many of these would also work for people who are chronically ill. They’re not in any particular order; I love them all.
Connor Cosgrove, the founder of Comfport, came up with the idea while he was undergoing treatment. He noticed how awkward it was for nurses to pull clothing to the side to try to access the port (a device that’s often implanted in a cancer patient’s chest, providing a direct line to the heart) in order to administer meds. These soft, classic tees come with an easy access button-on patch that can be removed when an IV needs to be inserted. And they look cool. Like, you’d wear them even if you weren’t in chemo. I can’t tell you how great that is and what it does for your mental state. Every single time I wore my Comfport tee, I got compliments and questions from the other nurses and patients. Also, for every shirt you buy, they donate one to a cancer patient in need. I mean, it doesn’t get any better than that.
If you have to have surgery, whether a lumpectomy, a mastectomy, or reconstruction, finding the right bra to wear afterwards is a big challenge. Your range of motion is drastically impacted in the weeks and months that follow. You are scarred, physically and emotionally. And radiation? I was not prepared for all of the skin over my right breast and the entire section under my armpit to slough off after I’d been barbecued. My True & Co bras were the only ones I could even bear to wear. They are super soft, light, and have just enough padding in the cups. Honestly, these are still my favorites to wear. No pinching or squeezing, no lines or lumps. You hardly even feel like you’re wearing a bra, which is AMAZING. And now, they have front closure bras which are great for breast cancer patients or anyone with motion limitations.
I learned about Wunderbrow from a friend whose daughter had alopecia. It’s a longlasting eyebrow gel you can paint on that won’t wash off right away. When you lose your hair during chemo, you lose ALL your hair. Including your eyebrows and sometimes your eyelashes. You become unrecognizable to yourself. I loved Wunderbrow because it gave me back my facial expressions. I didn’t look like a surprised baby all the time. I would put it on even when I wasn’t planning to leave the house because it just made me feel better when I looked in the mirror. And it would last, even through a couple of showers.
I also love my Thrive Causemetics eyebrow pencil. The brows never did really come back after I finished chemo, so I need to fill in the sparse remaining hairs and this pencil lets me do it in a very natural way. It has semi-permanent pigment that is almost as longlasting as Wunderbrow (I often use the two together), and you can get that microbladed look without having to have someone take a razor to your face. Their eyeliner is pretty awesome, too. And for every product you buy, one is donated to a cancer patient. Why is makeup important when you are literally fighting for your life? I don’t know. Maybe to some people it isn’t. But it sure did cheer me up. On my first day in the infusion center, I sat across from a very glamorous 70 year old lady in a fabulous wig and full makeup. She told me she was on her third round of treatment and that she recommended doing your makeup every day because it was a way to tend to yourself. Even if you weren’t going out. Even if it took you two hours. Get the big mirror, bring your makeup bag into the bed, and play dress up with your face. I took her advice. It totally helped.
One thing that happens when you get diagnosed with cancer is that people say some very well-meaning but messed up things to you. They’re trying to be kind when they tell you there’s a reason for everything. Or that they know what it’s like because their dog got sick. Or that you are an absolute super hero (you know, while you’re running to the toilet with chemo induced diarrhea – that’s definitely going to be in the next Marvel movie). This book should be required reading for EVERYONE. It uses humor, psychology, snark, and compassion to explain the basics of empathy, and it’s filled with Emily McDowell’s charming illustrations. And while we’re at it – check out Emily’s empathy cards. These were the best cards I got while I was sick. Like, spit-out-your-ondansetron funny.
It’s no secret that I love my sweatpants. I’m a fan of the entire stretchy comfort clothing genre. And I have to say that my MeUndies sweatpants are by far my favorite. Like, it’s not even close. They’re so soft, they look stylish, and they don’t shrink up even after repeated washings. When you are fighting cancer, you don’t need to also be fighting with your pants. You want them to keep you warm (it’s cold in the hospital) but maybe not make you look like a potato. Unless that’s what you’re going for – I don’t judge. I lived in these, you guys. I still do. I am also totally in love with their underwear.
One thing that really took me by surprise was how I was cognitively impacted by chemo. I had a hard time focusing and though I have always been an avid reader, I struggled to finish even a short article. But. One of the very first books I was able to read from start to finish was A Geek Girl’s Guide to Murder by Julie Anne Lindsay. Her books fall into the “cozy mystery” category and they were like a warm hug for my brain. You obviously don’t have to be sick to enjoy them, but if you’re looking for fun, engaging reads that help you escape while you’re stuck in a sickbed, these are perfect.
I know I’m biased, but the Anxiety Blob really was a great pal during treatment. I brought mine to every session so I could literally cuddle my fears (and as a bonus, the Blob is just the right size to hug or use as a pillow). They will be live in the Sweatpants & Coffee shop on Friday, November 24 for holiday preorders, and if you want to know a little more about the Blob’s origin story, I wrote a thing here.
Other great gift ideas:
- bluetooth earbuds – very useful for listening to podcasts or watching movies in the hospital
- soft hats – wigs are itchy, hats are easier
- big earrings – I loved huge hoop earrings and ornate, dangly ones because I felt feminine and pretty even when I was bald
- gift cards – talk to the Designated Person if you’re not sure which ones to get, but Target, Amazon, iTunes, etc. are always great
- treats for the caregiver – they are the real heroes
- clothes, books, toys or whatever for the sick person’s kids – they’re going through a lot
- soft blankets
- fuzzy socks
Oh, and let’s not forget coffee! Coffee was one of the things I was able to enjoy all the way through treatment, even when I had the worst chemo metal mouth. And our Sweatpants & Coffee blend is not just super delicious (think notes of hazelnut and caramel) – 30% of the proceeds from every bag sold are donated to Metavivor, a charity run by and for Stage IV breast cancer patients.