When life becomes precious it is, indeed, the thought that counts. These thoughtful gift suggestions and memorable gift stories come from our friends who've been there.
Thinking back four years ago to the holiday season, I had just had surgery #1 and was gearing up for chemo infusion #1. The leaves had all changed color as they do this time of year and fallen quite dramatically. Overnight, it seemed. Leaves were everywhere; so many in fact, that they totally covered the lawn. You just couldn't see the grass anymore. And I remember looking outside and thinking, "I wish I could go out there and rake the leaves." Such a normal thing to think about doing, and after a cancer diagnosis and a body altering surgery, I certainly was hungry for anything that smacked of normal. But with bandages and drains and stitches, totally out of the question.
Moments after I had that thought, I spotted one of my neighbors in my backyard with one of those excellent leaf blower contraptions. It took him over an hour to clear the back and front of my house, and create impressive mountains of leaves at the curb. This unsolicited kindness - the gift of a "leaf free" yard - unasked for, delivered without fanfare - was the gift I remember most vividly. Later that same night, his wife came over with a baked apple pie to sweeten my memory of their collective kindness even more. That's what I call a gift of the season and I will never forget it.
Visit Alysa's Fill-In-The-Blanks Poetry maker on OncoLink to create a gift of poetry.
I have been on chemo during December. It was the pits. I remember lying on the floor in my PJs watching my kids open presents because I was too weak to sit up. However, my friends did many lovely things to get me through the season. Here are just a few:
My family was all long-distance. They helped by not expecting us to travel during this time. They also did not travel to us. Yes, it was lonely, but the extra people in the house, extra fuss for food, etc., would have been too much for us. We had long phone calls on Christmas day after opening the gifts.
With my first breast cancer, I was hospitalized over Thanksgiving in a medical center quite a distance from my family and friends. A very good friend gave me a small stuffed animal (baby swan or cygnet). While that may seem like a strange gift for an adult, I found it very touching and soothing. First of all, my friend was one of my "birding" friends and she knew how important swans were to me. Secondly, for much of my stay, I was all alone in a strange environment. Having that soft stuffed animal to hold and stroke gave me a connection to my friends and family, my other life. Although I am not Catholic, I think it gave me a little bit of insight into the importance of holding Rosary beads during times of concern and worry. I still have that cygnet in its place of honor. And whenever I have had friends in the hospital with cancer, I have given them a small special stuffed animal to help them hold on and link to their other life, their friends and family who will do anything to help them.
See the outstanding Review of Diana Dyers book, A Dietitian's Cancer Story: Information and Inspiration for Recovery and Healing.
I think that most people, when they get over the initial shock of a cancer diagnosis, realize how wonderful and precious life is. Any gift that helps a patient appreciate life, and especially life with family and friends, would be nice, I think. In that light, I would suggest the following:
See Margaret Tobin's Survivor Story on OncoLink
I was diagnosed with cancer on December 19th (also my youngest son's birthday) and had my surgery for breast cancer on New Year's Eve. Unfortunately, "cancer has its own calendar". So I understand the additional stress and depression that affects cancer patients and their families on top of the normal holiday blues. Below are a few suggestions from a Chapter entitled How to Support a Loved One With Cancer, from my newest book, Cancer Has Its Privileges: Stories of Hope & Laughter, will help your loved one with cancer have a wonderful holiday season — one that shall forever remain etched in their memories as one of their best...
Cancer at Christmas...Could the Timing Be Any Worse?
Plan to do something for the patient to acknowledge the holidays despite their protests to the contrary. Bring over a small tree, a wreath for the door, decorations for hospital rooms or homes. Help address and mail holiday greeting cards, and the biggest gift of all? Take the decorations down after the holiday season comes to an end!
Create Holiday Cheer at the Hospital for Your Loved Ones
Facing surgery during the holidays can be very depressing for the entire family. Organize a "comfort party" at the hospital or home, complete with carolers and holiday treats. Bring food and beverages along with a holiday guest book for visitors to sign.
Cooking for Comfort and Holiday Cheer
The thought of cooking a holiday meal at the end of the day after having treatments can send even the most positive cancer patient into a downward spiral. Bring a holiday feast, complete with a holiday tablecloth and napkins. Come bake cookies for the day and let the aroma of freshly baked treats fill the house with the smells of the season.
Create a Concert for the Heart
Music can help relax any cancer patient and help take their mind off upcoming treatments or surgery. Post operation, it can soothe anxieties and help patients fall asleep. Bring over some holiday music or arrange for a musician to come play the piano, guitar or just sing carols for the cancer patient. The patient will appreciate the gesture and may even hum or sing along!
Christine Clifford, CSP, is the author of four books including Not Now...I'm Having a No Hair Day! And Our Family Has Cancer, Too!, written especially for children. Her company, The Cancer Club, offers over forty holiday gift items for cancer patients including books, videotapes, audio cassettes, PC Software, custom jewelry, t-shirts, ornaments, posters, etc. Visit The Cancer Club or order Christine's books at: www.cancerclub.com
Don't forget to laugh! 1-800-586-9062
When I was diagnosed with leukemia, I learned that without a marrow or blood stem cell transplant, I would mostly likely die. But the best Christmas present I received the year I was diagnosed with leukemia was a gift from a total stranger- a man who had volunteered with the National Marrow Donor Program to donate marrow or blood stem cells. Since no one in my family was a suitable donor, we turned to the National Marrow Donor Program to find a potential volunteer. Just a few days before Christmas they found a matching donor for me.
I know now how lucky I was to have found a donor. Marrow transplants require matching certain tissue traits of the donor and patient. Because these traits are inherited, the most likely match for an African American patient like me was an African American donor.
I was really surprised to hear that the NMDP had found a donor for me because I was told I had a combination of tissue traits that was uncommon.
I learned through my experience that there is a great need for donors from diverse backgrounds to join the National Marrow Donor Program Registry, so that more patients can receive this potentially life-saving treatment.
I encourage you to consider giving one of the following gifts this year:
Learn more about joining the registry!