Giving gifts helps us feel we are making things better, but many families become overwhelmed by material gifts.
Children may spend little time playing with them, and too many gifts can cause problems if siblings are not included.
Think creatively when you give a gift. A little careful planning will ensure your gift has great value and brings hope to the whole family.
Gifts for Children
Be sensitive to the child’s needs. If the child has an external central line, she will not be allowed baths, so bubble bath or bath play toys will be unhelpful.
Children who feel unwell or stressed have a shorter attention span. Many regress to earlier behaviours. They may choose toys or books previously outgrown.
Some treatment, and the cancer itself, damages vision, sometimes dramatically. If the child’s vision is limited, be cautious about choosing gifts that rely on sight.
Brighten the child’s hospital space with balloons or posters, bright get-well cards or artificial flowers. Check restrictions beforehand. Some hospitals only allow Mylar® balloons as rubber is a choking hazard. Many oncology wards ban living flowers/plants as they are an infection risk.
Travel Related Gifts
If the family travels along a toll road en route to the hospital, they will appreciate a prepaid toll pass. Similarly, if they travel into a congestion charge area, such as central London, a prepaid congestion pass will be very valuable. Many can be prepaid on-line.
Consider fuelling the family’s car, donating frequent flier miles or even offering to act as chauffeur to help with regular travel to the hospital.
Travel toiletries are immensely helpful for overnight or unexpected hospital stays. If you travel regularly, collect hotel toiletries for the family.
Prepaid phone cards are very valuable. They enable the family to keep in touch when they cannot all be together at the hospital, and help them stay connected with friends and relatives during lonely, overwhelming hospitalizations, without running up big bills.
Food Related Gifts
Meals at hospital can become expensive, but wards often have a fridge for families. Bring meals and snacks when you visit, order a take-out treat or send a voucher to help with groceries.
Picnics may be very welcome on long clinic days. Check with the family about eating restrictions before bringing meal gifts. Presenting a picnic or discussing food in front of the child will not be appreciated if the child is fasting for a general anaesthetic.
Ask about any allergies, food restrictions, likes and dislikes before preparing food.
Gifts for the Family
If they don’t have one, loan or give the family a CD or DVD player, iPod, tablet or computer. These can help entertain children who are low in energy.
Consider the gift of internet connection or paying a month’s rental fee. This will let the family research retinoblastoma and connect with others who share and understand their experiences.
A professional photography voucher can create special memories. Dressing up for the occasion, the outing itself, anticipation of the results, and permanent images of the family having fun together can bring much joy to the whole family.
Equipment and consumables may not be an obvious gift, or have the appeal of a traditional present, but their impact is huge and they are likely to be much appreciated. Ask the family for a list of the most needed items, to ensure your gift is truly valuable.
Giving blood and registering as a bone marrow donor is also a huge gift. Your friends’ child may not receive your donation, but they understand and will appreciate this gift of life you are giving in their child’s honour.
Many blood banks in insurance based systems also allow a free unit when a certain number of units is donated in the child’s name – regardless of blood type.