With five major surgeries, cancer and a chronic condition under my belt, I have my fair share of experience in what recovery looks like. I’ve also, like most of us, had many people close to me go through chemo, surgery and other treatments. If anyone in your life is going through something similar, I wanted to share some ideas for after surgery gifts and gifts for chemo patients that might bring some comfort during a trying time.
All of these are gifts that I’ve given or received and greatly appreciated. Every person is different but I hope some of these items help you if you’re searching for a gift for a loved one who could use some comfort.
The Best Gift You Can Give
Before I get into the physical gifts I recommend, let’s talk about the best gift you can give, if you are local to the recipient: your time.
However, this comes with some parameters. It is tempting to reach out and say “What can I do?” “Do you need anything?” “How can I help?” And while those are asked with good intent, it’s often overwhelming for people. There is so much on their mind, and of course they need help, but it’s hard to pinpoint what it is and even harder to ask for it.
Instead, try coming with an offer already. Here’s a few ideas:
- Laundry: “I’d like to come do your laundry, can I come on ____?”
- Childcare: “I’d love to take the kids for the afternoon. We’ll go to the park and out to lunch. Can I pick them up at ___?”
- Drop offs/Pick ups: “I’m dropping off ____ at school anyway so I can take ____ with me! I can pick them up at ____?”
- Lawn mowing: “I’m mowing my lawn on Saturday and would love to come mow yours afterwards. Is ___ a good time to not disrupt you if you’re resting?”
- Groceries: “I’m going to bring over some groceries. I have a list of things to grab for you, but is there anything else you need right now?”
- Company: “____ premiers tomorrow and I heard great reviews. Would you want some company and we can watch it together? I’ll bring dinner, too. If not, I’ll watch it at home and let you know if it’s worth the watch!”
Everyone will be different, of course, in the ways they need help but if you know someone well enough to know the help they need, this is the most helpful gift you can give. Any everyday burden you can remove is so vital.
Practical Gifts To Help With Symptoms & Recovery
Surgery can leave someone with a lot of lingering pain upon their return home, whether it’s from the surgery itself or back pain from having to lay down so consistently. A heating pad was and is a life saver for me. This neck wrap heating pad has been great for both my back, and wrapping over my abdomen to help ease aches and pains, and would make a great after surgery gift.
Staying hydrated is important, and hard, with both chemo and surgery. Having a water bottle that tracks the ounces you are drinking is helpful, especially in hospitals when they often only provide small cups to drink from.
Since nausea comes with chemo, and some pain medications, sometimes regular water doesn’t sound appealing. I found having lemon water was much more tolerable, so a water bottle that infuses citrus would be a great option too.
Perhaps an unexpected gift for a chemo patient, but chemo often makes your skin more sensitive to the sun and you shouldn’t leave your house without adequate sun protection. If you’ve had surgery where your scar is exposed, same goes for that too.
But that doesn’t mean it has to be boring! A fun sun hat, for the right person, would be a great gift that they could use long after treatments are over, too.
Cozy Lounge Set
The only thing you want to wear when recovering is something comfortable. If you know the person well enough to know their style and size, you can never have enough cute, but comfy, lounge sets.
Chemo dries out your skin, and frigid hospital air does too. Hand lotion is key, often a scent free variety to not provoke any nausea. Necessaire’s hand cream is my favorite.
Your extremities can get very cold during chemo, and a pair of warm cozy socks would be such a treat.
Ginger chews are my saving grace as someone who suffers from chronic nausea. A bag or two of them would make a great gift for someone suffering from nausea side effects.
With both surgery and chemo, you’ll spend lots of time resting and a nice, cozy blanket (like a linen quilt, a colorful knit throw or a weighted blanket for those suffering from anxiety) will be their BFF.
Some people recovering will have restrictions on this, so keep that in mind. But a massage can be such a treat. Since leaving the house can be hard, a massage that comes to them is even better.
I recently got a massage in my backyard from the service Soothe, which is available in tons of locations across the country and had a great experience. I was even able to request a chair massage (instead of laying on a massage table) to accommodate my restrictions on not being able to lay on my stomach after surgery.
Entertainment & Distraction Gifts
Food Gift Cards & Meal Deliveries
While food gifts may be difficult for surgery patients and chemo patients who are on restricted diets, their families and care givers still have to eat, and meal deliveries or food gift cards can be a huge help to relieve that burden.
If you’re in LA, we love Everytable for easy, ready-to-eat meal delivery. Spoonful of Comfort is a great option for soup delivery nationally. IF you want to organize a nightly meal train of home cooked meals and deliveries, we had a great experience using Meal Train.
It is often hard to concentrate on something like a book when you aren’t feeling well, but I find magazines to be more digestible. Less words, lightweight, and easy to flip through. A selection of not-your-average magazines from the book store or a magazine stand would be a great gift.
Some of my favorites are: World of Interiors, Architectural Digest, Domino, House & Garden, International Elle Decor Issues, House & Garden
DVDs or Streaming Gift Cards
After I had one of my miscarriages, a family member sent me a big box of fun, light hearted DVDs. I thought that was such a sweet and thoughtful gift. DVDs may be even less common these days, but you could do something similar with an Apple gift card and a list of your top ten favorite movies that cheer you up.
Alternatively, you could purchase a streaming subscription for them and include your favorite shows or movies on that particular app.
Going through surgery or chemo as a parent adds another layer of complication, as kids still have just as much energy whether you’re recovering or not! Consider including a quiet entertainment gift for their child or children like a pop-up book, craft subscription, activity book or puzzle. Here’s a few other creative gift ideas.
I recently got a Headspace subscription for free through a special program for LA residents, and when I had some of my hardest moments in the hospital I found some of their pain meditations helpful. A subscription to Headspace would make a great gift for someone who is interested in meditation as a part of their recovery!
Gifts That Cost Nothing
A Homemade Card or Sign
Cards always mean the world, especially home made ones. I love turning my son’s art into cards, it’s a great way to repurpose it and send a little extra cheer.
A FaceTime Call
While they may not always be up for it, sometimes a FaceTime call is a welcome distraction if you can’t be there to visit in person. Talking about things that aren’t related to their illness can be a welcome break, too.
Every once in a while, a friend or family member will call and we’ll hand the phone to our four year old. He’ll go in his room, close the door and “play” with them by showing them all his toys and talking about his day. We call it “FaceTime Babysitting” because it gives us 30-45 minutes to rest or get something else done.
If you aren’t able to babysit in person, this is a great option!
A Personalized Playlist
Create a playlist, or a bunch of them, for different moods or reflective of different fun memories you had together in the past. You could do one for relaxing, feeling happy, feeling sad, depends on who the recipient is and what you think they’d appreciate!
Have you ever given or received anything during a treatment or recovery that I missed? I’d love to hear it below and will continue to add thoughtful gifts for chemo patients and after surgery gifts as I come across them!
As my dad goes through chemo and radiation, we play games as a family via FaceTime! Lots of games have apps which makes it easy for everyone to join. It’s a great way to stay connected when we’re physically far away from each other and helps pass the time when he’s in the hospital or at home recovering.
When I was at my most ill during cancer, a friend just showed up every Monday night and he didn’t require anything of me. He’d just sit on the couch with me and we’d watch tv. It was maybe my favorite “gift”. And just being *that* friend that a person knows they can call for a last minute ride or favor. The worst thing to do is disappear. If you don’t know what to say, nothing is not best. If you have nothing to give, physically or emotionally, say that. Don’t be silent. That can end friendships.
I loved this post. My boyfriend is going through radiation therapy and this reassured me that the things I’ve been doing for him are about as much as I can do. Thank you so much Kelly!! 💕💕
Amy Elizabeth Jones says
Great ideas! My sis, who had multiple surgeries and chemo, loved her meal train. She left a cooler with ice packs outside her front door and for a month or two her friends & family dropped off dinner (and sometimes cards & gifts too). They signed up on the site you mentioned, ‘meal train,’ and she loved the surprises every night. Her friends & family really put their love into making meals and/or buying special desserts etc. They asked her ahead of time what her and her family liked and she said every meal was yummy and thoughtful. And because of the cooler outside her door, no one needed to disturb the family to deliver it. It made us all feel like we had done something and alleviated a bit of a burden.
This is so helpful, Kelly — thank you for sharing. I hope your recovery is going well!
As a patient is a healthcare provider; I can’t help but thank you enough for this. Wishing you and yours and all seeing this comfort and warmth.
I love this list! It will be so helpful to refer to in the future. I learned about offering up specific gifts of time when Pinch of Yum wrote about grief after loss a few years ago. I was able to bring two homecooked meals to a friend going through a miscarriage last fall. I was thankful I had learned to offer something specific rather than placing the burden on her and asking what she needed.
Our friends are in the PICU with their daughter who had open heart surgery and unexpectedly now needs another one. We knew they wanted pjs we had mentioned awhile ago, so we just texted them, “we’d love to buy you each a set of these pjs for the next few weeks in the hospital. Can you tell me what size and set you want?” While a “surprise” is more fun, it’s even better if it’s something they want and pick. We got them sets to https://www.recliner.nyc/ if anyone is in need of a good gift.
What a thoughtful, compassionate list! I’ll be sure to keep this bookmarked and PRINTED in a safe place so that I’ll know where to look when necessary. I had no idea that while we were commiserating over baby names, you were quietly muddling through such a journey. Please accept my heartfelt wishes for a speedy and complete recovery. ~~Swan :}
My dad has a good friend who has a lot of health problems, and when I was visiting last weekend I found out that my dad texts him most weekends when he goes to the farmers market to see if anything sounds good. I didn’t even realize what was happening until, on the way home, my dad asked me to stop by Bob’s to leave his corn and tomatoes. That simple, sweet act of care was really beautiful to witness.
Maegan Brundage says
Something that helped me when I was going through chemo were cozy hats that don’t look like chemo hats. My tip is not to search hats for chemo patients, but just soft comfy beanies and ear warmers. I sent one to my mom when she did chemo and she wore it every day.