A cancer diagnosis is cruel at anytime, but it is especially difficult during the holidays. A time that is supposed to be spent with family in a warm home surrounded by enough food to feed a stadium is turned into long days in the hospital being poked by doctors and nurses, not knowing what the future holds.
This was the case for Heather Von St. James, an 11-year mesothelioma survivor. She was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, on November 21, 2005. Knowing that the prognosis for this rare cancer was only 15 months and soon facing surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, she was scared. Scared that she would lose her career, scared for the impending medical bills, and mostly scared that she wouldn’t be around to raise her daughter, born just 3 ½ months before her diagnosis. While she waited through the holiday months to get her lung removed in February, Heather leaned on her family and friends for support, cheer and hope.
As a friend or family member to a patient undergoing treatment during the holiday season, what is an appropriate gift? Heather suggests "to give for the person, not the illness". Many gift baskets found at hospitals or online are filled with food that might make the patient sick or superficial items that they wouldn’t really use. Don’t tiptoe around the person just because they are now a patient. Their appetite may have changed and they may lose energy fast, but they haven’t changed. Their interests and hobbies are still the same so give as you normally would.
● Songstress - You know them. You know the song they can sing every word to and the bands that make their ears bleed. Gift the latest hit album you know they will love or a subscription to Spotify.
● Energizer bunny - Understand that the friend who usually has all the answers and takes care of you may be a little low on energy. Change it up and take care of them. Go grocery shopping for them or fill their gas tank, it’s the little things that make a big difference.
● Foodie - Rather than sending food that might spoil or taking them out to lunch on a day they are feeling nauseous, buy a gift card that they can use whenever they are feeling well enough.
● Fashionista - Send the latest fashion accessory or a gift card to their favorite store. Pamper them with a day of shopping.
● Book worm - Have a favorite book? Lend your friend a copy. Make it even more personalized by making notes about parts that remind you of them or you think they will love. Sometimes, the chemo drugs make it hard to concentrate on reading, so audio books are another great way to show you care.
● Out of work patient - Know that medical bills are expensive and not everyone has insurance or an emergency fund. Take the load off by paying a month or two of the regular monthly expenses like the car payment or electric bill.
● Deep heart - Donate to a cancer research foundation in their name. A friend donated to the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation in Heather’s name and it meant more to her than any gift. You can also make a donation to HIS Breast Cancer Awareness and a donation card can be sent to share your well wishes. HIS Breast Cancer Awareness helps to educate and provide support for Male Breast Cancer.
The bottom line is, your friend or family member is still just that. Sure, they may need to take a few extra rest breaks or they can’t go for coffee like they used to, but overall they are still the same so treat them like it. Be there for support and hope. Lend a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen when needed, but also provide an outlet for distraction.