By Pam Stephan
Updated April 09, 2014
Avoid buying memberships to Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and Nutrisystem – sometimes chemotherapy can cause weight gain, and nobody likes to be reminded that they have extra pounds. Skip the new bathroom scales, for the same reason. Ditto for those breast enlargement creams – somebody who is dealing with the loss of some, or all, of their breast is likely to burst into tears before your very eyes. Unless you can produce a gift that confirms how much you love her no matter what shape she is, choose your gift from some other category.
Depending on how long ago your favorite survivor had breast surgery, she may not want you to bring home frilly little things from the Impossibly Sexy Secrets store. There are two reasons for this: she may be a different size or shape than before diagnosis, and she doesn’t want to think about you ogling the shapely young salesgirls at the lingerie store. The exception to this would be slinky clothing that she specifically requested as a present. In this case, spend freely and have it professionally gift-wrapped.
Before breast surgery, your cancer-fighter may have worn form fitting, low cut tops with generous armholes. We're thinking tank tops or sleeveless shells in fine gauge knits here. Such clothing can be very flattering, but not when there are visible surgical scars where curvy cleavage and smooth underarms used to be. After a sentinel node biopsy, there is a long curved scar in the lower armpit – and after breast surgery, there may be other scars and changes in shape or even asymmetry. Scars heal over time, but at first they are too colorful for public display. Choose something less tailored, with a modest neckline and sleeves.
Make sure you know whether or not the object of your affection has had chemo recently and may have neutropenia. When a patient’s white blood counts are low, their immune system can’t cope with food that may harbor harmful bacteria. Don’t give baskets of fresh, unpeeled fruits or vegetables, or even ready-made salads. Pass up the gift boxes loaded with mold-containing cheeses, unshelled or raw nuts, and hard sausages in natural wrappers. While these items look tasty in all those glossy catalogs, your loved one may not be able to enjoy the food. Most baked goods should be okay to give, but keep the pickled jalapeños and bleu cheese to yourself.
You know those packages of 50 different shades of eyeshadow? Leave those at the store. Women who are going through treatment for breast cancer may have very dry skin, no hair anywhere, and more fatigue that you can imagine. The prospect of choosing from among more than just two different colors of anything may be too much. Hold the thought of getting her favorite fragrance until about six months after chemo – her sense of smell may be way off, causing even the most expensive perfume to smell like rotten eggs. Have you always pictured her as an auburn-haired lass? Well, that may not match her current image of herself. Better get a gift certificate to a wig salon and let her pick her own portable hairstyle.
When you choose a gift for a breast cancer survivor, remember to use the RAFT:
Reflect on what the survivor has been through and be respectful.
Ask them for good gift ideas and act on their wishes.
Fighting cancer can change a person; don't expect them to be their old self right away, if ever.
The gift is not about you – put yourself in their position, then choose.
If you can't find a gift that really works for the person you wish to honor, create a custom gift certificate. On it, offer your time: a ride, a home-cooked meal, an afternoon of house cleaning, running errands, attending a doctor's visit, babysitting, or an evening at the movies in their own home. Such gifts are more precious and irreplaceable than anything you can buy.
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