Cancer and Chemo Care Package Ideas

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In October, we think pink, and it jogs our memory to get our girls checked, which is great, because mammograms are no fun and sometimes we women need a gentle reminder to take care of ourselves.

Cancer and Chemo Care Package Ideas | 11 Magnolia Lane
 

Last month was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and next month will be Lung Cancer Awareness Month–plus a few others.

Keep Calm and Fight On | 11 Magnolia Lane
 

But we all know that rotten cancer doesn’t really care what month it is when it decides to go on the attack, and we all have family and friends who are in the fight of their lives every single day.

 

My cousin (almost a sister) Stephanie is a childhood cancer survivor, and most recently a heart transplant recipient, because chemo and radiation are serious business and can attack healthy organs just as easily as they can kill cancer cells.  You can read her amazing story {here}.

My cousin Stephanie's school picture during chemotherapy

My cousin Stephanie’s school picture during chemotherapy

My precious mother didn’t even have a chance to fight her cancer; she died of a pulmonary embolism less than two weeks after her initial diagnosis (this is her story) and while I still miss her every single day, I trust God’s perfect timing.  I know a lot of you have similar stories; you’ve shared them with me on Facebook and by email and I thank you for that.

Mom & Me in 1995

Mom & Me in 1995

And here’s a tidbit you might not have known about me– my background is in oncology and hospice nursing.  While I haven’t practiced for a few years (because–I’ll admit–I prefer decorating to nursing:), I spent quite a few years in all stages of the fight against rotten cancer–caring for patients pre and post-operatively, hanging chemo and blood products, getting folks to and from radiation therapy, and dealing with complications.  But the things that help get a person through cancer treatment are pretty much the same as they were when I was practicing.

Cancer and Chemo Care Package Ideas | 11 Magnolia Lane
 

As I started to jot down a list of cancer and chemo care package ideas based on my nursing experience, I also opened it up to our readers on Facebook.  A few of you are cancer survivors, and some of you have taken care of parents or children during their fights.  Everyone had great tips to share.  Thanks again for being so very candid with me.

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I’m dividing the ideas into categories, some are tangible and some are gifts of service; there might be some overlap (a meal is a tangible item and a gift of service, after all).  Some of these ideas work best if you live nearby, but there are also ideas for folks who live on the other side of the world.  If there’s a specific reason why I’m recommending something, I’ll mention it because it might help you think of something else to include.

Also, I’m linking some items (and some of those are affiliate links) but it’s really just because I want you to see an example of certain specific items that I mention.

Cancer & Chemo Care Package Gift Ideas

Personal Comfort Items:

(* Indicates a good gift idea for out-of-towners)

  • Soft and stylish hats, caps, scarves–for chilly and sensitive heads.  These are cute, and there are quite a few shops that sell them on Etsy (this is one of my favorites).
  • Lip balm–chemo and radiation can dry everything out.  My favorite (even though it’s a bit expensive) is Aveda Lip Saver.
  • Aquaphor Healing Ointment–Aquaphor is the best!  It’s great for cracked, dry, skin, but it also can be used as a skin barrier to prevent rashes and irritation.  Anyone being treated with radiation will appreciate how gentle it is.
  • Lotion–for dry skin.  I would stick to unscented brands (like Lubriderm) since strong smells can really irritate chemo patients.
  • Hard candy to combat nausea–in my experience, peppermint, ginger, root beer, and lemon/citrus flavors seem to work best.  TummyDrops and Queasy Drops are two brands to try.
  • Anti-Nausea Accupressure Wrist Bands (I linked to one of the big brands, Sea Bands, but there are some darling handmade ones you can find online, too)–these help to manage chemotherapy-induced nausea.
  • Wet wipes and hand sanitzer–Chemo and radiation knock out your immune system and make you more susceptible to infection, so these are a must, but I would avoid strongly scented ones (odorless ones are here).
  • PJs or comfortable loungewear–try to select button-down fronts (instead of pullover) if your friend has had surgery or will be receiving chemo–it just makes things a little easier. (you can find PJs virtually anywhere, but this is one of my favorite brands and they are absolutely gorgeous; they’ll make your friend feel so pampered!)
  • Tea–if they have a favorite kind, include it; if not, peppermint, ginger, and lemon/citrus work best (just like with hard candy).
  • Pretty note cards/stamps/pens–in case they feel like jotting notes to friends and family.
  • *Massage gift certificate (or come and give him/her one if you’re a massage therapist!)
  • * This gift basket contains quite a few of the items I’ve mentioned above (it comes in a cute pink sand bucket), and can be delivered to the hospital or home.
  • *A cozy sweater or robe, the Barefoot Dreams line is both luxurious and incredibly soft and the free shipping makes it easy to send as a gift, they have nice, soft caps as well.

Like I mentioned above, you should try to avoid anything with a very strong scent as it can disagree with sensitive stomachs.  You should also check with your friend before bringing fresh flowers or fruits as a gift in case his or her white blood cell counts are very low.

Entertainment Items:

  • Sudoku or other puzzle books.
  • *eReader (or eReader gift card if they already have one, so they can buy more books).  The reason I like Kindles, Nooks, and the like is that they’re small, they don’t have to be held open if you’re too tired to hold a book, and they can be wiped down to get the germs off.  You can also order another book on the spot if you blow through your book before the infusion is finished.
  • A blank notebook or journal–sometimes you want to just make a list or write down questions for the doctor, and sometimes you want to write down deep thoughts.  A pretty notebook makes any of those tasks more enjoyable.  I love the journals by Kate Spade in the collage I made.
  • A devotion book, Bible, or framed printable (Keep Calm and Fight On) or Bible verse (see one that I made for a friend here), and I have a beautiful free printable of Isaiah 40:31 here . We have an entire collection of bible verses and inspiring quotes about fighting cancer HERE, we can customize a quote or printable options as well.
  • *iTunes/Amazon gift cards–for audiobooks on MP3, ebooks, and music–sometimes you just want to listen because even reading takes too much energy.
  • People Magazine–depending on the person, of course,  but I found that for several friends it was the perfect distraction–not too serious and didn’t require much concentration.
  • *DVDs/Netflix subscription–for quiet days on the couch.  If they have young children (or the child is the patient), then obviously kids’ DVDs are a great idea, too.

Gifts of Food and Service:

  • Meals, meals, and meals!  No one wants to cook when they’re sick, or caring for a sick family member.  There are several online sites that make scheduling meals so easy–we use them all the time with church, school, and our military families.  Try Take Them a Meal or Meal Train.   You set up the initial instructions (how to get to the house, drop off times, food allergies or things to avoid, etc.) and then invite everyone to sign up.  Chemo or radiation week is a great week to have meals delivered. Resources for recipes, printable labels and more are in this post HERE.
  • Grocery delivery: most large supermarket chains offer order online/delivery service for a monthly or annual fee. Give this as a gift that will save time and energy!
  • *Restaurant Gift Cards–this is a great idea for out-of-towners.  Send them a gift card to their favorite restaurant for nights when they’re too tired to cook, or maybe want to have a special evening out with the family.
  • Lawn care–My friend Deborah told me that when her son was in treatment, their church family took care of their yard work throughout the spring and summer (Sign Up Genius is a great site for organizing this sort of effort).
  • Child care–when there are young children in the house, they still need to get to and from school and sports activities, and may need someone to watch them while their parents are at doctors’ appointments or in the hospital.  Also, just including them in your family’s activities (take them to a movie or ask them to sleep over) can help keep things feeling normal.
  • *House Cleaning–it’s so much easier to relax when your house isn’t chaotic.  Spend a few hours tidying, doing laundry, or grocery shopping for a friend so she can rest.  Out of town friends could pool resources to hire a housekeeping service.
  • Lunches–Julie and Deborah both mentioned to me on Facebook that preparing (or purchasing) school lunches for the school-age kids (or siblings) is HUGE; I’m not a fan of packing lunch even on a good day, so I can see how this would be true!
  • Write notes for them–I mentioned note cards and stamps above, but you could also offer to take dictation from a friend who just isn’t up to writing but has important things to say. 🙂
  • *Gas cards–all the back and forth to appointments and treatments adds up.  Another great idea is to take the car to get an oil change when it’s due.

Cancer and Chemo Care Package Ideas | 11 Magnolia Lane

Do you have any ideas that I missed?  I’d love for you to add them in the comments.   Also, just a quick reminder that all chronic illnesses are tough–so many of these ideas would work for friends who are fighting illnesses other than cancer.

A special thank you to Gina G., Jean B., Deborah D., Julie R., Margaret H., Donna W., Gail C., Carolyn E., and Jennifer G. for sharing your experiences and your tips with me on Facebook.

Keep Calm and Fight On!

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Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this-your timing is perfect! We just found out a family member’s cancer has returned after being in remission for over five years and my husband and I were talking last night about what we could do to help them. These suggestions are perfect!

  2. Love, love, love this! May I suggest this idea for hospital stays & the patient’s spouse/children/loved ones?—–>

    http://usefulbeautifulhome.com/2013/05/diy-hospital-care-package/

    I didn’t know you are a nurse, Christy!!! From one RN (who also loves to care but prefers decorating) to another – many thanks for posting a thoughtful, useful, & all-inclusive cancer care package list!

  3. What a great post. These are wonderful ideas! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Sherry Hawkins says:

    Christy,

    Thank you for spearheading this topic and sharing your expertise and experience with your own loved ones.
    Just today I was casting about for dishes that are good for patients in chemo…could you do a followup?
    They would probably work for most Postop patients and anyone in recovery of some sort.

    • Thanks for commenting, Mrs. Hawkins! That is a good idea for a follow up post. In the meantime, here’s a great link from the National Cancer Institute with lots of cancer and chemo friendly diet ideas: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/eatinghints.pdf

      Back when I was practicing in Bethesda, we used to order free copies of a “cancer cookbook” from the NIH, but it looks like this is what they offer now. I hope that helps for now!
      Love,
      Christy

  5. What a great, informative post. Thanks for compiling everything into one post. I’m pinning for future reference.

  6. This wonderful, Christy! I didn’t see your FB post…will have to check it out. I’ve been a volunteer with Chemo Angels since I retired in 2003. I’m sure this is covered somewhere in your information but just in case…remind readers to send cards, drop off food for the family, help with transporting kids to their activities, take care of the laundry, help out with pets and do things for the patient spontaneously…don’t just ask if they need something or to call you. They are so busy fighting and trying to just make it from one day to another that even making a phone call is too much.

    My kid’s step-mom passed away this week. She was a wonderful person and, unfortunately, found out too late to have chemo or radiation.

    xo
    Pat

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your kids’ step mom. Cancer is a terrible thing.

      Your ideas are all great ones–thanks for sharing them in the comments so everyone can benefit from reading them!
      Christy

  7. Thank you for these lovely ideas. My mum has just been diagnosed and we’re about to go through this for the first time, and your list of helpful things is a great starting point for my care package.

  8. James Wright says:

    Hi Christy,

    I work with Mattress Firm in one of their locations in North East Ohio. We support T-Gen and Pancreatic cancer research. Recently a close coworker/friend passed away from Pancreatic cancer, so obviously this is something important to me personally. I have been putting together a donation drive and I wanted it to be more than just money. I decided to put together a cancer care package for those fighting locally. I love your suggestions, some I knew from my Aunt who passed from liver cancer, but some I would have never thought of. I would like to know if I could use the two images on this page for some fliers – the one that says Cancer and Chemo Care Package Ideas and the one that says “Cancer and Chemo Care Ideas from a cancer nurse” with all of the products listed.
    Thank you!

  9. Donna Hill says:

    You have put together a very good list. I would just like to add don’t ask “is there anything I can do for you” or “call me if you need anything”. Just do it.

  10. Debbie Knudsvig says:

    Mom mother just had her first 50 hours of chemo for Pancreatic Cancer. She totally lost her appetite for about a week. I’ve been to the store time and time again trying to find things that would interest her and most of it goes to waste or I end up eating it and I’m not the one that needs to gain weight! 😉
    I was thinking how great it would be if there were sample sizes of a huge variety of snacks so that one does not need to buy a full size item only to find out that “nope, not that either!” So far I have tried:
    apple sauce, jellos and puddings
    various crackers, cookies and chips
    yogurts, cottage cheese, cheese
    fruits
    bars and shakes
    popcorn
    pop tarts
    smoothies
    ice creams

    It would be great if the cancer wards at the hospitals had tons of trial size items that they could pass out to help the patients and the caregivers try to find something that would work for eating.

    Just a thought!
    DebK

  11. Do you know of any organizations you can donate care kits to? I run a community service club with elementary school children and was wondering if there is a way to donate care kits without a specific person in mind.

    • That’s a great idea, Emily! Maybe touch base with the local cancer center at the hospital, or even the folks at Relay for Life or some of the other cancer support/education/outreach groups. One of the churches we attended would drop things like that off to members, too, so that could be another route.

      Hope that helps!
      Christy

  12. I am a breast cancer patient (and an RN) who also loves pretty decor. Your care package ideas are wonderful!! I have a couple of ideas to add, pretty Kleenex purse packs (many CA pts. in tx. have chronic runny nose), cooling eye masks for tired puffy eyes, and gift of service/help from friends to assure new bills to maintain health insurance during tx. are paid while out on temp. disability. It is crucial to maintain health insurance while out of work, but easily overlooked as the contribution is usually deducted from one’s paycheck if she id the subscriber. In fact, anyone close to a person in treatment might want to help them organize bills and reduce monthly payments (where possible) during this time of decreased monthly income. Gifts of comfort, help with day to day duties, and keeping up on necessary bills and chores are some of the best gifts anyone can receive while on the mend. I love your pretty baskets and ideas, they are timeless! Thank you, Carol K.

  13. Plastic forks, knives, and spoons. Paper plates.

  14. As a Leukemia survivor and active member of many facebook sites for bone marrow transplant patients, I have shared the link to this post. This is a very good list! Thanks for posting!

  15. An additional idea from another RN, offering to drive the patient to appointments/treatments to relieve the family or allowing them to go to work or have time to themselves.

  16. Hi. I am a Girl Scout Leader and my troop makes HUGS for local cancer patients going through chemotherapy. They are small gifts, hard candy, bracelets, cards and other items. We also make Grab and Go Bags which are quart sized ziplock bags filled with water bottles, juice boxes, healthy snacks, mints and a sweet treat for the parents staying in Ronald MacDonald House to grab as they go to the hospital. We all know when we have a sick child , we do not take time to care for ourselves. My daughter , earned her Silver Award by making and teaching people how to make 54 blankets that she gave to the children in our local children’s hospital. The children loved them . I am the Mom of a SURVIVOR and your ideas are wonderful.

    • Hi, Lisa–

      Thanks so much for the lovely comment. How proud you must be of your daughter! I absolutely love the grab and go snack bags–that is such a helpful idea. My kids volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House with their school and I’m going to suggest this to them. And most of all, I am so glad that you are the mom of a SURVIVOR–praise God!

      Take care,
      Christy

  17. MICHELLE LARSEN says:

    Christy,
    My Sister-in-law was just diagnosed and starts chemo next week. This was very helpful to have everything in one post.
    Heading to the store now to pick everything up!
    Thank you

  18. Rosemary says:

    Hi Christy,

    This is a such a touching and helpfull post. My husband’s aunt was just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and lives across the country. I’m in my third trimester and he is about to take boards at the end of the month so we can not visit her. Otherwise I would have loved to donate meals and help clean and help with the yard. I would still like to send her a care package but she declined chemo and will be receiving at-home hospice. What on this list should I leave out for non-chemo patients? Thank you!

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your husband’s aunt. Pancreatic cancer is a tough one. 🙁

      Just skip any of the items that are related specifically to chemo/radiation side effects. For example, she won’t be losing her hair, so no hat or beanie needed. She also probably won’t need the Biotene mouthwash or the seasickness bracelets. She might still like the lotions, candies, or lip saver, though. Once she’s set up with hospice, her nurses can let you know if there are any specific recommendations they might have.

      I hope that helps. Good luck with the baby, too!

  19. Hi Christy! Thank you for sharing your information and story. I do have an idea for a gift for a cancer patient. It is called Germseal shopping cart liners. It creates a barrier between your healthy food and the filthy shopping carts that almost never get washed at grocery stores. This product was specifically designed for anyone with a compromised immune system. Take care!

  20. An elderly friend of ours was just given 6-9 months to live as the result of lung cancer. i have been sending cards but would like to do more. he has a very large supportive family, plus his wife (my close friend) is a nurse. can you suggest something more that we could do? thank you for the previous suggestions.

    • Hi, Deb–
      I’m so sorry to hear about your friend! That’s always so hard. If none of the suggestions in the post appeal to you, maybe you could you help with grocery shopping or lawn care?

      Best of luck–take care–
      Christy

  21. I know this is an old post but it is a brilliant idea for chemo patients. I am an x cancer patient in remission for nearly 10 year and have seen half my extended family wiped out by the disease and if this list was there when we were all suffering it would have made their lives much more comfortable. Thank you.

  22. Amber Potts says:

    I really appreciate your post and would like to thank you. My sons girlfriend of 5 years he’s never introduced me to. He’s never brought her around to any ballgames unless I’m not there. She was diagnosed with leukemia two weeks ago and still in hospital. Dr says probably three months. She began chemo and radiation the very next day. A lot of words have been exchanged through different times over the years. However I feel compelled in my heart to do something for her and if from no one else, my son. I feel I am walking a fine line but I’ve decided to take my son to hospital and let him deliver the gift into her room. Your ideas have eased my mind in what I should do for her. Thank you and God Bless

    • Amber–
      I’m sorry to hear that sad news about your son’s girlfriend, and also sorry to hear that you’ve been estranged. It’s good that you’re taking the first step and I do hope you all are able to patch things up. It sounds like he’ll need you in the months ahead. Good luck and God bless!
      Christy

  23. I love your post/ideas. i just received a phone call this AM from a close friend with the news that she has been diagnosed and is starting chemo in a few weeks. i don’t know what to do to help her, other than just be here for her. this has helped a lot. i know this is an old post but i will be making a basket for her, the least of what i can do. she is a fighter and she’s got this i know. but you just don’t expect that call from your 36 year old bestie.

    • Heather, I’m so very sorry to hear this! I’ve had several close friends diagnosed in the past few years–all very young. It’s so heartbreaking. You’re right that the best/only thing you can do for her is be there. Let me know if you have any questions about the care package items as you start to put your basket together. Take care, Christy

  24. Marion Dourte says:

    Yes this is an old post – I am a breast cancer survivor of 1 year. I did receive a helpful bag from where I was getting my chemo. Thankfully I was on many prayer chains. I agree that when asking the family feels funny saying would you clean or do dishes or laundry. The most appreciated were the friends that just called and said we will put a meal in the refrigerator. To come home and not have to cook or even have to think about a meal was wonderful. I could have used more of that during radiation when my husband was also in a nursing home. just do something. Now I’m going slow with a blood clot, so again prayers.

    • Marion–
      Thank you for writing and sharing what worked for you–it will definitely help others who read the comments in the future! I hope the blood clot is dissipating and that you are taking it easy in the meantime. I honestly should have put prayer as the #1 thing, because that is truly the most important thing we can do for someone going through chemo or radiation.
      My very best wishes to you–
      Christy

  25. Vicki Arnold says:

    I think adult coloring books and gel pens might be fun things to add to a chemo bag.

    • That’s a really good idea, Vicki. I don’t think they were a “thing” when I wrote this post, but they are so relaxing. Thanks for sharing!

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