Gift for a Child with Cancer

Gift for a Child with Cancer
Photo by Ekaterina Shevchenko

Selecting an appropriate gift for a child with cancer can be tricky. It’s hard to know what they’d like or even be able to use when they’re not feeling well. And you certainly don’t want to buy something that is inappropriate or would make their situation worse. But don’t let this stop you from giving a gift for a child with cancer. You just need to do a little homework before choosing a gift.

Brighten a Child’s Day in the Hospital

A gift for a child with cancer in the hospital can bring a little bit of home into the otherwise sterile hospital room. But before you head off to the hospital with gift in hand, check in with the family. Make sure that the child is well enough for visitors. And call the hospital to find out what the hospital’s visitor and gift policies are. Many hospitals are modifying their policies to limit the spread of infection.

The Difference Between a Good and Horrible Gift for a Child with Cancer

If you’re looking to brighten a child’s day with a gift, first make sure that you’re not selecting something that would put your gift on the horrible list! The right gift can provide much need distraction from pain, treatment, procedures, anxiety and boredom. The wrong gift could actually be problematic.

To best determine the most appropriate gift for a child with cancer, there are a few important things that you should consider. Knowing this could make the difference between an okay gift, a really great gift, and most importantly not a horrible gift!

No Food, Flowers or Fragrances!

Here are some suggestions including why some gifts are problematic and alternatives that you can give instead. First let’s take a look at food, flowers and fragrances.


  • Don’t Give Food!  Many children going through cancer treatment develop sensitivities to smell and taste. “Chemotherapy can cause changes in the taste buds, altering the brain’s perception of how food tastes. Meats often taste bitter, and sweets can taste unpleasant. Even foods that children crave can taste bad. The sense of smell is also affected by chemotherapy, heightening smells that other family members do not notice and sometimes causing nausea in the child on chemotherapy.” (1)  Chemotherapy can also cause mouth sores making eating certain foods unpleasant and painful. Additionally, they may have dietary restrictions or are on strict nutritional guidelines.

    Steer clear of giving food unless the family has specifically requested something. Otherwise, it can be either frustrating, nauseating or both for kids who can’t have it, or are too sick to eat it.

    Do Give Gift Cards. Gift cards provide a great distraction because they give children a chance to shop online and choose whatever they’d like.  There’s also the exciting anticipation of waiting for the item to arrive. Purchase a gift card from a retailer that has a lot to choose from, like Amazon and Target.  


  • Don’t Give Flowers and Plants which many hospitals are restricting due to a patient’s possible allergic reaction. Plants also have the potential to grow mold (even in dried flowers) and harbor fungal spores.  There’s also a possibility of bacteria forming in the vase water.

    Do Give something that will brighten up the hospital room. Select vinyl window, wall clings or a poster of the child’s favorite musician or sports figure.


  • Don’t Give Toys with Fragrances which can become almost unbearable or too strong. Fragrances can even increase nausea because radiation and chemotherapy can alter the sense of smell. Scented items can also cause skin and immune-system issues for someone who’s system is hypersensitive due to treatment. Stay away from gifts that have any kind of fragrance like scented Playdough, markers, and scratch and sniff books.
  • Do Give Unscented Self-Care Items.  Cancer treatment can really take its toll on the body. Chemotherapy, in particular can make the skin a lot more sensitive than it usually is causing dry and cracked skin and lips. Look for unscented, high-end lotions and lip balms which will soothe their skin and make them feel pampered!

No Balloons, Stuffed Animals or Hats


  • Don’t Give Balloons! Many hospitals are not allowing latex or rubber balloons in hospital rooms because they could trigger allergic reactions. Metallic or Mylar balloons (Mylar is a synthetic metal) may not be allowed in the ICU due to potential interference with electronic medical equipment. Balloon strings can get caught in IV poles and other medical equipment.

    Do Give Games or Activities.  Board games, coloring books or brain teaser puzzles are all great ways to pass the time and break up the boredom. If the child has an electronic gaming system like the ones that Mikey’s Way distributes, find out what new game they’d like to add to their collection of games.

Stuffed Animals

  • Don’t Give Stuffed Animals and Plushy Toys. Many hospitals are discouraging these toys because they can carry dust and pathogens. This can be of particular concern for children with compromised immune systems.  And stuffed or plushy toys with items glued or sewn on like buttons or beads have a good chance of ending up in the hands of young patients, who may swallow them.

    Do Give Socks or Slippers. Fun socks or slippers can help keep the child’s feet warm when walking up and down the halls in the hospital or on the way for testing.  Bright fun socks or slippers can be conversation starters, too, with other patients, nurses and doctors.

Hair Coverings

  • Don’t Give Hair Coverings! Hats, wigs and scarves are not great gifts ideas because children can be sensitive about how they look and how others respond to them. If treatment does cause a child’s hair to fall out, it’s important for them to pick out their own hair covering which aligns with their personal style and taste.

    Do Give Pajamas or Other Cozy Clothes. Many children end up having to spend a lot of time resting and they’ve probably worn the same comfortable clothes dozens of times. New comfy sweatpants, a sweatshirt or soft pajamas would most likely be a welcomed gift. Look for ones with breathable natural fabrics that won’t be itchy against sensitive skin. 

A Few Other Important Things to Consider

Cancer takes an enormous toll on a child emotionally and physically. Isolation is one of the many painful challenges that a cancer patient experiences during and after treatment. While you can’t take away their pain or their fear, you can help distract them or provide comfort.

Gifts can be a way to provide encouragement and lift their spirits and most importantly provide distraction from treatment, procedures, and anxiety.

(1)Childhood Leukemia A Guide for Families, Friends & Caregivers Fifth Edition Nancy Keene