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SUPPORTING A FRIEND WHO HAS CANCER

My friend has cancer; what should I do?
My friend is having chemo; how can I help?
What can I buy for a breast cancer patient?
Do you have any gift ideas for a colleague with breast cancer?
Can you recommend good Christmas gifts for cancer patients?

These are questions we are regularly asked in the boutique and by email. Cancer is a difficult subject – if a loved one or a colleague is diagnosed we often don’t know what to say or do. Sometimes we avoid talking about the subject; other times we skirt around it, afraid of causing offence.

Even if we get the talking bit right, we can still cause upset when it comes to buying gifts. When Julie was diagnosed, Lisa and I sent her flowers and a get well card, even though there was nothing to celebrate and, at the time, Julie didn’t know whether she would actually survive, let alone get better. Later on, we realised that we needed to be far more practical with our support, and we did improve, culminating in the following lists of things that can help:

1. Talking and listening – don’t be afraid to say the word “cancer”. Ask your friend how her treatment is going and listen to her replies. If she’s not in the mood to talk, don’t push it. And don’t say “I know how you feel” unless you really do.

2. Help with household chores – it’s likely that your friend will be tired, especially if she is having chemo. The last thing she’ll want to do is battle round Sainsbury’s with a heavy trolley, clean the loo or mow the lawn – but you can bet your bottom dollar that she’ll be worrying that her cupboards are bare, the loo is dirty and the garden is overgrown.

3. Have dinner together – and prepare some frozen home cooked food for when she is alone – she may not feel like cooking for herself but she probably won’t be able to resist a meal that someone else has lovingly prepared. The frozen dinners idea worked a treat for Julie when she wasn’t up to cooking from scratch.

4. Make sure she has plenty of reading material – magazine subscriptions; newspapers; novels; puzzle books are all good and may help to take her mind off her illness for a short time. Some women like to keep a journal or diary of their treatment and progress, so a gift of this type would also be useful.

5. Help her to get comfortable when resting – if she will be spending more time than usual in bed and some time in a hospital bed this is paramount. Comfy cotton nightwear is ideal and practical items like Chillows (cool pillows that help to calm chemo hot flushes), silk pillowcases (less harsh on scalps during hair loss than the cotton equivalent) and pillow spray (to get rid of the “hospital” smell on hospital pillows) are all great gifts.

6. Make sure she’s warm and cosy around the house – cosy cashmere socks and soft blankets and wraps may seem like luxuries when you’re fighting fit but they can be a necessity when you’re feeling cold and a bit down in the dumps. Julie describes a gift of a warm wrap or blanket as being a “virtual hug” from the giver every time you wrap it round yourself. She also found her alpaca wrap to be really useful and comforting during chemo sessions.

7. Try making her a scrap book or photo album – it’s amazing how pictures of happy times, silly poems, fond words and photographic memories can promote laughter even on the darkest of days. We made Julie a scrapbook out of old photos of us all, with jokey comments and words of “wisdom” and we added to it at key stages of her treatment – it went down really well and she still reads it now!

8. Think practically where presents are concerned – flowers don’t really fit the bill; cosmetics and body products may smell different to your friend if she is having chemo and she probably won’t want to use them if they contain parabens; chocolates contain dairy products (which many cancer patients cut out of their diet) and get well soon cards may offend. Think paraben free skincare like our Defiant Beauty range, cards with uplifting slogans and practical gifts like post-operative pillows, sleep caps and more.

We hope that these ideas are useful – thank you for reading our blog.
Kind regards
Paula

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