Gifts to Avoid Giving Someone With Cancer (and What to Give Instead)

It can be hard to find the right words to say when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. One great way to show you care or are thinking of your friend or family member is by giving them a gift. Sometimes, a simple gift can speak volumes, comforting someone when they need it the most.

If you decide to give someone with cancer a gift, you want to make sure it’s safe for them. Keep in mind treatments like chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery can cause unpleasant physical reactions and emotional trauma, so you need to be extra sensitive and thoughtful about your gift.

To make shopping for someone with cancer a bit easier, we’ve come up with a few things you should avoid buying, as well as what you can give instead.

Don’t Buy Flowers or Plants.

Yes, flowers are often the go-to gift for patients in the hospital or newly home from treatment, but they shouldn’t be for someone diagnosed with cancer. Flowers (and other plants) naturally carry pollen and fungal spores, and can cause infection in someone with a compromised immune system. Also, when the flowers wilt and die, that can trigger negative emotions in the person.

Do Let Your Creativity Bloom.

Tory Bouquet
photo via

Instead of real plants or flowers, try paper flowers instead.

Our picks: Anemone and Hydrangeas in Vase by Anemone Paper Florist ($50) or Tory Bouquet by Amaranthus Paper & Flora ($48).

Don’t Buy Balloons.

Brightening up a room with a few colorful or shiny balloons might seem like a good idea, but it’s actually not for a cancer patient. The standard latex or rubber balloons can cause an allergic reaction to the person who now has extremely sensitive skin. Also, metallic or mylar balloons are not permitted in the ICU because they can interfere with electronic medical equipment.

Do Decorate with Inspirational Quotes.

You can you will laptop decal
photo via Etsy

If you can’t jazz up a room with cool balloons, opt for inspiring vinyl decals. These can literally be put anywhere — on a laptop, the wall, the window or a mirror.

Our picks: “You Can & You Will” Laptop Decal by DeAceDesigns ($3) or “Stay Strong, Stay Positive” Mirror Decal by DecalNerds ($2.99 to $6.99).

Don’t Bring Strong Scented Lotions or Products.

As much as some might love sweet-smelling lotions, perfumes and cologne, these types of products are not the best to give someone in cancer treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation often alter a person’s sense of smell, so they may find certain smells totally unbearable or nauseating.

Do Help Them Get Their All-Natural Groove On.

Unscented lip balm badger
photo via

You can purchase natural and fragrance-free products that will help the person’s body heal.

Our picks: Unscented Lip Balm by Badger ($2.99) or Organic Hand & Body Lotion from Puracy ($12.99).

Don’t Buy Sad Movies or Books.

Being diagnosed with cancer is tough, and being confined to a hospital room with only a laptop or book as your main source of entertainment doesn’t help. Don’t heighten the person’s already sensitive emotional state by giving them a sad movie to watch or book to read. That means no “A Walk to Remember” or “The Fault in Our Stars.”

Do Give Them a Reason to Smile or Laugh.

Whole Lllama Thoughts Journal
photo via Etsy

Try to take their minds off of  treatment with some light-hearted humor, or you can encourage them to write down their own funny thoughts or stories.

Our picks: “What’s Your Poo Telling You?” book from Uncommon Goods ($9) or “I Gotta Whole Llama Thoughts” Journal from TheStaggeringTruth ($12 to $15).

Don’t Buy Candy or Other Sweets.

Unfortunately, those undergoing cancer treatment are often put on a strict diet that limits how much sugar they can consume. Chemo and radiation can also damage the surface of the tongue and cause mouth sores, making sweets unpleasant and painful.

Do Deliver a Meal When They’re Out of Treatment.

Munchery Meal
photo via Facebook

Get your loved one a gift card to an already prepped meal service, so when they are finally out of treatment they don’t have to worry about buying ingredients and cooking.

Our picks: Munchery Gift Card (starts at $50 or customizable) or Top Chef Meals Gift Card (customizable).

Don’t Buy Stuffed Animals.

Unless they are a child, don’t buy a cheesy stuffed animal from the gift shop or one that reminds them of the dog or cat they can’t see because they’re in the hospital.

Do Buy a Stuffed Pillow.

Instead of something that will sit on a shelf and gather dust or will be donated next year to Goodwill, get them a personal pillow they can use to rest or prop their body after treatment.

good vibes only pillow
photo via Etsy

Our picks: For her, “Don’t Let Anyone Ever Dull Your Sparkle” Personal Pillow by handmadeXOXO ($35) or for him, “Good Vibes Only” Pillow by MiaoMiaoDesign ($30 to $56).

Don’t Buy a “Get Well” Card.

Avoid telling someone with a cancer diagnosis to “get well” because they may still have weeks, months or years of treatment and recovery ahead of them.

Do Give a Handwritten Card or Note.

you goat this card
photo via Etsy

A personalized, handwritten message will always mean more than a store-bought generic card.

Our picks: “You Goat This!” Blank Card by ARIllustration ($5) or “Just in Case You Couldn’t Remember…You Are Awesome” Blank Card by SarahsHeartDesigns ($3.94).

A few other unique gifts you DO want to buy:

iBeani E-Reader/Tablet Cushion

ibeanie ereader

Perfect for the patient who is constantly lying down. Plus, it relieves pressure on the wrists.

Buy it on Live Better with Cancer for $26.35.

“Fuck Cancer” Socks

fuck cancer socks

Because hospital rooms are cold and the floors are even colder and because, well… fuck cancer.

Buy the purple pair (or choose your favorite color) on the Etsy ThinkingOutLoudCo store for $6.99.

F’K Cancer Coloring Book

f cancer coloring book

Help your loved one pass the time with an awesome coloring book. This adult coloring book offers awesome images and inspiring messages for anyone diagnosed by cancer.

Buy it from the Etsy NewAdultColoringBook store for $9.99.

Did we miss anything? Share your gift ideas in the comments below.

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Header image Thinkstock photo by Melpomenem

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