Holiday Gifts

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

I have been thinking about gift suggestions for people who are being treated for cancer and for those who have recently completed treatment.

As a starting point, my recommendation is to give gifts of life rather than gifts of cancer. No matter how well-intentioned the gift, I become cranky if I find my Christmas stocking stuffed with pink ribbons or books with titles like, Cancer Is a Special Blessing or I Beat Cancer with an Eggplant Diet.

Give people an opportunity to think about something other than cancer.

In addition to everything else, cancer is expensive and disposable money is often tight. Give little luxuries. A gift certificate to a favorite restaurant or to a local theater can be a real treat. Join together with friends and give a person a day of pampering at a local spa.

For the person who’s completed treatment, consider something with a future orientation. The time immediately following treatment is often unexpectedly difficult, so help them look ahead. Perhaps tickets to a play that’s coming to town in a few months or an upcoming sporting event.

But what if your loved one has advanced cancer and this holiday season may be their last? Gifts with a future orientation might be well intentioned, but they ignore reality.

If a person you love is nearing the end of her life, why not celebrate that life?

A photo album or scrapbook that captures your mother’s life will have more meaning for her than a new pair of slippers. Ask her friends and other family members to contribute photos and mementos. They’ll be delighted.

And I think it’s a wonderful tribute to make donations in a person’s honor before they die. Suggest donations to your dad’s favorite charity, perhaps creating a special fund in his honor.

Some people say that gifts that celebrate a person’s life are wrong because they imply the person is dying.

Hello? If your mom is dying, she knows that she’s dying. Giving her a family scrapbook isn’t going to push her over the edge.

Holidays bring families together and most of us make special efforts to join loved ones if a family member is seriously ill. Sharing stories is not an admission of impending death-it’s a celebration of life and a recognition that a person’s life continues to have meaning.

There’s no question that holidays take on an added poignancy when a loved one is nearing the end of life. Expect some tears. But expect laughter as well. It’s all about life.


Click here for all of Bob’s columns

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