Tips on Visiting Cancer Patients

There are some things to be mindful of when visiting cancer patients.

1) Gifts

Avoid fresh flowers, plants or fresh fruits. 

  • Fresh flowers and fruits are the usual choice of gifts to patients, but for immunocompromised patients, these gifts can harbor bacteria that is dangerous to them.

Avoid balloons.

  • "Latex or rubber balloons are not permitted due to potential allergic reactions. Additionally, metallic or mylar balloons are not permitted in ICU since they may cause interference with electronic medical equipment in the room." (from City of Hope)

  •  Also, if the balloon pops it will give the cancer patient an unwanted shock! Yes, it'll be better to avoid balloons.  ;-)

But not to worry!  There are many good gifts for cancer patients!  I included links where you can get more information or buy it.

greeting card tutorial for cancer patient

 Greeting cards:

a handwritten note to let the patient know

they are thought of, cared for and loved! 

Tutorials for making your own greeting card



Vinyl Window or Wall Clings:

adds color and fun to the room the patient is staying in and is removable!

I've tried many brands of these window and wall clings, and I love the fun patterns and high quality of Home Stickers for Window and Wall the most!


handmade tissue paper flowers tutorial for cancer patients

 Paper flowers:

these avoid the problems of fresh flowers,

and are just as beautiful and cheerful as fresh flowers!

Tutorial for handmade tissue paper flowers




help the patient pass time and to make something fun.

I received this Origami Craft Pad as a gift, and I loved it!

It is compact, with both instructions and beautiful origami paper in the pad.

It became a fun activity for me at the hospital.

Online craft tutorials for cancer patients


Buff headwear:

If the patient will be losing hair or has already lost hair during treatment, a nice gift is Buff Headwear to keep their head warm.

There are tons of colors + patterns.  Suitable for men, women and children.

I bought 6 of them when I went through chemo, wearing one a day.  After my hair grew back, I still wear my Buffs as a scarf or hat!  A well worth investment, as my Buffs are still in great shape 6 years after my chemo!

Why I chose the Buff


a subscription to a magazine is a great way to give a gift consistently every month.

general interest:  Reader's Digest    National Geographic

science/mechanics: Popular Science    Scientific American    Make

cooking/food: Better Homes & Gardens    Food Network Magazine    Martha Stewart Living




lighthearted and funny books are great for patients.

I gave this Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine, Reader's Digest Book to a friend fighting cancer, to bring smiles and laughs.

Books that cover topics the patient is interested in are great ideas as gifts.




portable games that can be brought to the hospital are great gifts.

I received this Bananagrams as a gift, and it gave me many hours of fun.



2) Make sure you are healthy and not sick.

Cancer patients going through treatment or post-treatment often have suppressed immune systems. This means that they are not able to fight off colds or flus as well as they used to.

If you are sick or feel like you are coming down with something, it's best not to visit.   Let the cancer patient know, and they will appreciate you canceling your visit, as the safety of the patient is the priority.

An alternative is to video conference with the patient if both of you are able to do that via the computer.  This way, no germs will be transmitted, but you can still see each other and have a conversation!  Skype provides free video conferencing.

3) Ask before hugging them or shaking their hand.

It is very natural to show your care by a hug or hand shake.

However, if cancer patients are immunosuppressed, any physical contact with them is not ideal.  It's best to just ask the patient if it's ok you give them a hug or hand shake.  Remember that they are not trying to be unfriendly, they're just trying to stay germ-free and survive.

Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy often have PICC lines in their arms or Ports in their breastbone area.  When giving a patient a hug, be aware of this.

4) Set a time to visit and be on time.

The cancer patient is under various stresses, and uncertainty adds to this stress.

Set a date and exact time with the cancer patient, and make sure you're there at that time. It causes a lot of stress to the patient if you're late, or worse yet, you forget the appointment (which has happened to me before...)

5) Duration of visit.

Patients undergoing treatment usually have much lower energy levels.  It's ideal to let the patient know how long you're planning to visit (eg - 10 minutes).  Keep the visit short, but see if the patient wants you to stay longer.

When the time is up, see if the patient wants you to stay longer or if they usher you to the door. It really depends on the patient.

Going through an illness is terribly lonely, and having company really lifts one's spirit. So, have an open schedule to allow for staying longer if the patient would like company for longer.

6) Don't wear fragrances.

Radiation and chemo often alters the person's sense of smell. Smells that usually are pleasant can become unbearable or too strong to cancer patients.

Leave a comment below if you have other tips for visiting cancer patients!