While thoughtful gestures are always appreciated by a friend or loved one in need, it can be difficult to know what to give someone who has cancer, and many people get it wrong. The go-to gift is usually flowers for most hospital patients, but they never last more than a few days and usually require at least some maintenance. Flowers have also been banned from most medical facilities because of patient allergies, so they’re not always the most practical gift. 

Creature comforts are usually lacking in hospitals, so it’s important to make a loved one feel special during times of need. Before you buy a gift, however, be sure to do your research so your gesture doesn’t go to waste. Here are three gifts you should avoid buying a loved one with cancer, and what to give instead.  

Food Gifts

It’s best to veer away from food-related gifts, as those undergoing treatment may have lost their appetite. Your loved one may have also been advised by their doctor to give up specific food groups, like dairy or sugar. Many chemotherapy patients also feel nauseous for much of their treatment, so avoid buying chocolates, cakes or other sickly treats until their treatment is over. 


Everyone needs a little TLC when they’re sick, but many toiletries contain ingredients that cancer patients can be sensitive to. Skin, hair and nails become sensitive during chemotherapy, so opt for soaps and bath products made with natural ingredients to avoid irritation. You should also steer clear of parabens, sulfates and essential oils. Hospital patients can often feel as though they’ve been stripped of all their home comforts, so a pampering session is a lovely idea – you just need to choose your products wisely. 

If you’re worried about the ingredients in toiletry products, you can opt for jewelry instead. The Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation has some unique mother's day gifts and other gift items for cancer patients, such as “bravelts" – which are elegant bracelets created to inspire courage and strength during tough times. 

Certain Clothing Items

Clothes or pajamas can be a lovely gesture, but human-made fibers can easily make cancer patients feel hot and sweaty. If you want to buy pajamas, go for cotton varieties or clothing specially made for sensitive skin. Beautifully made hats and scarves make practical and thoughtful gifts that could help your loved one feel a little brighter. Just make sure any headgear you buy consists of 100 percent breathable fibers like 100 percent cotton.

What to Buy Instead

It’s important to remember that even though your loved one is sick, he or she is still the same person. Therefore, aim for gifts that speak to that person’s interests and help them feel more at home in their surroundings. Cancer patients need a lot of rest, so soft cotton pajamas and sleep masks make thoughtful gifts, as do slippers, blankets, cozy pillows and dressing gowns. Again, just make sure the materials are high quality and breathable. Books and DVDs are also a great gift idea – just don’t go for anything hard-hitting or long-winded.