breast cancer care package
April 24, 2016 6:31 PM   Subscribe

A friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer. I'd like to send some care packages as she goes through treatment, but need some suggestions on what would actually be helpful / things she can use

Am heartbroken to learn that a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. She will start chemo shortly and I'd like to send some surprise care packages to help get her through it. But I'm worried that things I would think to send, she may not actually be able to use or consume during treatment (bubble bath, luxurious bath type products and creams, desserts and snacks and other consumables).

For anyone who has been through this or had a loved one go through this, I'd love to get some suggestions of things that 1) will bring a smile to her face or comfort her and 2) are things that can actually be used during chemotherapy. I already have ideas of things I can include that are specific to her personality and hobbies, but am looking for additional suggestions of things that will ease the path during her difficult treatment period.
posted by raw sugar to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My mom liked watching or listening to comedy during chemo. Or reading a breezy letter from a friend or family member, something descriptive and gossipy enough to take her out of the chemo mentally.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:10 PM on April 24, 2016

Of all the things I was able to do for my friend, the thing she liked most were the hats I knitted for her.

She also really liked getting long chatty letters.

Fancy teas and ginger candy.

It seems so individual. I kept thinking that what I would have want most was music, but she wasn't very interested.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:17 PM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sadly, I've had several friends go through chemo recently. Based on their preferences/needs (not sure what your budget is, so a range of options):

--A curated watch/playlist of things you'll know she'll like that will 1) keep her entertained and 2) alleviate the need to make little decisions if she's not feeling up to it. (I don't know your friend, but I have yet to strike out in recommending Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries if she hasn't watched it yet.)

--Fuzzy, super soft, and warm socks. Chemo frequently makes people cold. Fun, cheerful, uniques, and comfy socks (or slippers). Snuggly, warm things generally. I had one friend who couldn't get enough of fancy fingerless gloves.

--An assortment of fancy teas.

--Perhaps a gift certificate for a maid service to come? There are charities that work with cancer patients to do free cleaning, so may want to check that you aren't interfering with any plans your friend has in motion.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 7:24 PM on April 24, 2016

From my experience of friends going through it, stylish hats and scarves. Also, restaurant gift certificates, especially from places that do take out.
posted by Ruki at 7:43 PM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Most of this is useful stuff, rather than fun stuff, but here are a few suggestions people gave me that were useful, as well as things I ended up finding on my own that I needed.

-Is she having surgery first? If so, a pillow like this one of the size that you can comfortably stick between your chest and your arm. Helps keep your arm off your armpit/chest area when you are sleeping during recovery.

-Also for after surgery - these small round ice packs. They give you one of these at the hospital, but it's not enough. With this set of five you can swap them out in freezer and they fit perfectly in a bra which you basically have to wear non-stop for a while after the operation.

For doing chemo/radiation?

-Aquaphor for skin peeling off of various places.

-peppermints, ginger mints (Newman's Own makes nice packages of each) for nausea.

-Possibly Sarna for the chemo. Everyone is different. I have been going through vats of it for itchy hands during chemo.

-Possibly a nice lip balm.

-Head Buffs and chemo caps, from places like and, or maybe a gift certificate to one of these.

-An Amazon Gift card, if she's a reader, and will have a kindle or something like during chemo and after during when she's resting at home, so she can read

-A nice thermos or water bottle. She will need to drink a ton of water, all the time during chemo.

-Is she a fan of coloring books? a friend gave me a coloring book and set of pens to keep me busy as well.
posted by instead of three wishes at 7:43 PM on April 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I actually just came here to say, "for the love of god, NOT HATS!" I have a type of cancer that doesn't even make me lose my hair and I got five hats. I was also drowning in adult coloring books because everyone had read the same article about how meditative and relaxing they're supposed to be. While I 100% appreciated the thought behind every gift, they also were re-gifted to the place where I do my chemo and/or goodwill almost immediately.

The things that I LOVED were so unique to me that only you will know what the equivalent for your friend would be. Mine were:
1. An entire handmade quilt with the names of all my friends in the last town I lived in on it.
2. James Joyce's Ulysses, because the sender really enjoyed it and thought I might too. I may or may not ever actually tackle it, but it stood out like a beacon in a sea of coloring books.
3. A stacking animal game because some friends and I run a blog about photos of animals standing on top of other animals.

I mean, I already own my own fuzzy socks and sweaters and whatnot, so the last thing I need right now is MORE of those. Think unique and specific to the person, not generalized to "random cancer patient."
posted by MsMolly at 8:00 PM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I got a subscription to Audible for a friend who had trouble reading during treatment, but who loved books. Other things that she and her family enjoyed were gift cards for grocery stores with good, healthy prepared foods (like Whole Foods, Wegmans, Central Market or whatever is close to her), and occasional flowers just because.
posted by goggie at 8:02 PM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Audiobooks of short stories and essays. That way she can choose to listen to something complete during a session or when she just needs to rest, without worrying about chemo brain making long form narratives difficult to keep track of. If she's a reader, a subscription to a literary magazine for lots of variety every month or so. (If she likes science fiction, I suggest Strange Horizons.)
posted by Mizu at 8:14 PM on April 24, 2016

Multiple people have suggested tea. Well, wait a minute. An acquaintance of mine had breast cancer, and after it was successfully treated, she posted on Facebook to urge people not to think that "I have cancer" means "I want tea." She was inundated with tea, and she didn't want it. Don't send tea if you don't know that she's normally a tea drinker.
posted by John Cohen at 8:21 PM on April 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, in addition to All the Hats and All the Coloring Books I forgot to mention All the Tea. I like tea, although I don't drink it every day, but whoa I cannot drink that much. I gave like eight boxes of it away.
posted by MsMolly at 8:25 PM on April 24, 2016

Given the legalities involved, probably a nonstarter...but I have to mention that marijuana was a lifesaver for a friend going through chemo. Literally the only thing that worked for her nausea. If you happen to be located in a place where you can buy some and gift it to someone else, it's worth considering. Especially if she doesn't see herself as the sort of person who uses MMJ, getting it from a supportive friend might help a lot.
posted by town of cats at 9:53 PM on April 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

An eye mask so she can sleep during chemo. Something warm and snuggly to wear because chemo can make you cold. Some fun hot sauces in case her chemo changes or dulls her tastebuds.
posted by kamikazegopher at 11:19 PM on April 24, 2016

My mother had a different kind of cancer, but things that she surprisingly loved when going through chemo:
- Lollipops (the little fruit flavoured ones, known as Chupa-Chups in my part of the world)
- Cordial (not the fancy hipster kind, the straight up red and green kinds we had when we were kids)
- Pineapple juice (not sure if this was Mum-specific, as she always liked it, but some websites mention it for reducing bad mouth taste doing chemo).
- Moisturising spray (Innoxa Moisture Mist in our case, but there are doubtless other options). The air in the hospital was often quite cool and dry, and Mum said this was nice on her skin, and it also had a nice fragrance.
- Really soft fuzzy dressing gown (it was cheap but very warm and soft) and slippers - mainly relevant for inpatient treatment.

If your friend is going to lose her hair, bear in mind that the kind of hat you would wear for warmth in winter when you have hair is not necessarily the kind of hat you would wear over bare skin when the weather is warmer. Wool and many synthetics will be hot and itchy. In any case, if she hasn't yet started chemo, maybe hold off on the hats.

A lot differs between patients, but when my Mum was having chemo she was quite ill and didn't have the concentration for the kinds of media she would normally consume - lengthy novels, foreign films, etc. This is probably the reason people have magazines in hospital. A book of short stories could be a slightly less disposable alternative.

And a unique thing, in the spirit of MsMolly's answer - a friend of Mum's who was a quilter made a little quilt (probably about 4' by 3') with material printed with origami cranes. It was such a beautiful gesture, partly because of the symbolism (thinking of the story about Sadako and the paper cranes made it feel like a prayer for Mum's wellbeing) and the object itself went with her through many hospitalisations, and gave her a small sense of familiarity despite the different beds and rooms she was in.
posted by Cheese Monster at 3:40 AM on April 25, 2016

I don't know how much detail you have about your friend's treatment, but when Mr. Machine went through chemo, one of the best gifts we got was from a doctor friend who gave a simple, but thoughtful bag of stuff to ease some of the less well-known symptoms associated with chemo.

Not sure how much these symptoms are associated with the kind of chemo that Mr. Machine had, but:

- Biotene mouthwash and toothpaste, for the dry mouth that chemo can leave.
- Many sample-sized packets of over the counter ibuprofen, tylenol, advil for the bone ache that chemo can cause. (Mr. Machine definitely checked with his oncologist before taking any of these, and was given instructions about which and when they were OK to take -- with him, there were concerns that taking something like this might suppress a fever that was a sign of infection, but outside those windows, the docs were totally OK. The sample packs were helpful because we didn't have to worry about him trying to open child-proof bottles while exhausted/we could stash them around the house and we could keep some near the couch where he would sack out, more in bed next to him, etc.)
- Super-smooth dental floss for the sensitive gums that chemo can cause.
- Chapstick for the dry lips that chemo can bring about because you're sitting in hospital air for hours on end
- Lotion for the dry skin, see above.

We were really touched by the fact that she sat down and thought about/looked into/asked around to figure out what she could do to make little things easier, and didn't just go with generic tea and hats.

If you know your friend's eating preferences, I'd also suggest gift cards for restaurants/places that your friend don't normally eat at, particularly if they will deliver to her house or the hospital where she is getting the chemo. (Why places she doesn't normally eat at? Because of the experiences of Mr. Machine and his friend, who both had chemo. To this day, the friend can't eat muffins because she had a lot of them during her chemo, and Mr. Machine can't look at trail mix or anything from Dunkin Donuts. Like, he walks by one on the street and flashes back to being in the infusion chair and it's dry heaves and nausea.)
posted by joyceanmachine at 5:39 AM on April 25, 2016

The breast health center gave me a soft heart-shaped pillow that their volunteers make. The shape is perfect for tucking under your armpit so that you're not always rubbing your arm against tender areas. Very soft and poufy.
posted by janey47 at 7:59 AM on April 25, 2016

I forgot marijuana! That was another good gift that friends brought me! My appetite so far has been great except for the days I'm actually on chemo, but that was a much appreciated gift, since I live somewhere it's not legal and I had just moved here so wouldn't have been able to find anyone to buy it from.
posted by MsMolly at 9:13 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Re: hats and pillows there is literally an overflowing free basket of these at the chemo center where I get my infusions done, courtesy of volunteers who make them by the bucketload.
posted by MsMolly at 9:14 AM on April 25, 2016

I think it's pretty individualized. I did have a friend who died from breast cancer tell me that because of the cancer, she now HATES the color pink. So, FWIW, you can just do up a normal basket instead of doing it up with pink ribbons or whatever. My friend told me she knew people had good intentions, but pink is for breast cancer awareness and there wasn't a moment of her life since she found out that she hadn't been aware.
posted by Amalie-Suzette at 11:01 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is your friend the caretaker or homemaker for her family? When my mom had breast cancer, she loved getting things that made her home obligations* less taxing. Neighbors dropping by meals helped a lot, so a delivery gift certificate would go over well. Does she have a reliable ride to her treatments? If not, an Uber gift card would probably be most welcome. My mom also loved reading gossip rag magazines during her treatments.

*Obviously her husband and kids at home were cooking, cleaning, tending the yard, etc but she felt like she should have that role. She wasn't obligated to do them but felt that way.
posted by thewestinggame at 11:17 AM on April 25, 2016

Seconding hats, socks, scarves, and all the soft, cuddly clothes. My mother got me a Hello Kitty fleece blanket that I treasured and took to the hospital with me.

Before giving anything to be eaten or drunk, I would check to see what specific things she is or isn't able to keep down. Chemo is kind of like pregnancy that way.

Soaps, lotions, or anything in that vein should be unscented. When I was going through chemo, even Kiss My Face Olive Oil Soap had too strong a smell for me to tolerate.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:07 PM on April 25, 2016

Going through chemo, etc. taught me lessons about the nature of gifts and one of the most valuable was this: allowing someone to help me in whatever way they wanted (food, visits, phone calls, etc.) was a gift for them as well as me. Of every gift I received, time and attention were the best. And ice cream from time to time.
posted by lois1950 at 9:34 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Food brought to the house. Include the entree, dessert, whatever sides are appropriate, and even breadsticks or a veggie or whatever -- basically, make a picnic. Bonus points for bringing a second portion for the freezer.

Distractingly stupid books & movies. (I'm looking at you, Dan Brown and Nicholas Sparks.)

In general, things already picked out, as opposed to gift certificates, because they are an immediate distraction and not a burden (however slight) of making a choice.

After a bit of recovery, you might just be the adult on premise for a while: like drop off a book for her (magazines often have gag-inducing perfume strips), and take the kids away somewhere like a movie or to Target or something. Or show up with dinner, and let her doze while $PARTNER goes somewhere to decompress for two hours.

And a very brusque answer offered out of plain honesty: swing by the house and do some housework. Those friends who offer to help "with whatever" are treasures, no kidding: they are showing that they care and that they ant to meet her needs. Now, friends who bring a meal are angels: they are carrying out that impulse. Anyone willing to refill the fridge, do the dishes, wash clothes, or vacuum -- without wanting to sit and talk -- might actually be divine. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:10 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing pot. Helps with pain, nausea, anxiety, appetite, and sleep. It was/is a real lifesaver for me. If this is your route, you may also stop in a head shop and pick up a vaporizer to go along with it - lots of people don't want to use pot because they don't want to smoke it, but it's not always easy to get your hands on edibles.

Food is super iffy. The last time I went through chemo, my friends set up a meal delivery for me every week through lotsahelpinghands. The person cooking would check in with me before coming by, but what I wanted on Tuesday, I often couldn't stomach on Thursday. The best solution was from a friend who gave me her credit card number and told me I HAD to order a meal on her once a week, whatever I felt like. She checked her account regularly - if I didn't order something that week, I got a stern phone call from her wanting to know why.

I had friends who chipped in to pay for an acupuncturist to come to my home, and another friend who reached out to a meditation center she belonged to when she lived in my city, who sent one of their teachers to my home to sit with me a few times a week. People signed up through the lotsahelpinghands list to come over and do my laundry for me (I lived in a third floor walkup and had a tumor in my lung - laundry was NOT gonna happen without some help.)

Under pressure I made an Amazon wishlist. I got tons of books off it but my attention span wasn't so great and I am still two years later working my way through that pile. Really it was more the help that was offered than the gifts I received that got me through it. My absolutely favorite gift was when one of my besties paid for his hairdresser to come to my house and cut/color my hair (it was before I lost it from the chemo.) When you feel so, so crappy, anything that helps you look a little better is a real mood booster.

Good wishes to your friend.
posted by deliciae at 11:18 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

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