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:
Offers to take the person under treatment to any outing he or she would enjoy and is capable of going to would be appreciated. If the patient lives in the city and enjoys nature, take him out for a drive in a beautiful area of the country. If she lives out of the city and would enjoy a quick outing into town, take her for a drive into town. Any activity should be adjusted to the energy level and stamina of the patient, but anything one is sure the person loves and can do, would likely be appreciated. If he or she can sit through a movie, take the person out for a movie. In all of these cases, though, it would probably be wise to check with the patient and possibly the physician as well, to see whether such activities are OK.
Friends and relatives who live too far away to visit and can only call occasionally, might want to make a "positive" video of themselves saying hello and send it to the patient.
Something I enjoyed during my treatment were get well cards one of my friends sent almost weekly. They were really hilarious, upbeat cards, and I enjoyed reading them and having a good laugh. Whether the patient likes humorous cards or those with a more serious tone, sending cards with messages appropriate for that person would be appreciated and enjoyed.
If the patient has very little help at home, seek out ways to assist with daily chores without being intrusive. During cancer treatments, many people may have a low energy level, and so stopping over to help, but then sitting and talking with the person for over an hour, will probably tire the person out. Visits should be short. A group of my friends got together when I was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, and they organized a cooking schedule, whereby a different person would bring a meal by the house every day. I am divorced, and while my mother was at the house during that time, the five children with me could be overwhelming for her, and so these meals from friends really helped. Also, depending on how close one is with the patient, simply taking on other tasks, such as laundry, or getting the trash out to the street on "trash day" would be very helpful. Does the patient have children in school, who might need to go to the library or pick up some school supplies? If a spouse or no one else at home can do this, then friends might offer to run these errands too. During summer, see about cutting the grass. My neighbor brought his mower over and did my yard every time he did cut his own grass, when I was getting treatments. (OK, so that last one does not apply to Christmas, so how about shoveling walks when it snows?)
Most of all, remember that the cancer patient is indeed alive, so keep up a positive attitude with him or her. Do not ignore the disease itself, since it is subject frequently on the patient's mind, but remember that the patient can still enjoy family and friends, and most of the usual discussions you would have with him or her.
Most of all, I think simple gifts and inclusion in as many activities as possible, as long as the person is up for them, is the best one can do during the holiday season. Maintaining contact and helping the person stay psychologically healthy are gifts in themselves.
See Margaret Tobin's Survivor Story on OncoLink
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