10 Gifts to Give a Family Walking through Cancer

The first full day I spent in Connecticut with my brother was packed: 

  • Oncology appointments . . . 
  • CT scans . . . 
  • Blood tests . . . 

When we left his apartment that morning, my brother passed me the keys to his car. He wanted me to memorize the route, assuming he wouldn’t be able to drive once chemotherapy began. As we entered the garage and wove through the medical facilities, I willed my mind to remember when to switch elevators, where to change floors, and how to get out of the hospital. 

After he finished his last scan, long after the majority of outpatient visitors and daytime hospital staff had left for the night, we walked back into the dimly lit garage. My brother stopped at the pay station, and I reached down to respond to text messages sent hours earlier. Questions about how he was doing and what he needed had started to pile up. He pulled the parking receipt out of the machine, and I put my phone back in my purse. 

The only sound in the garage that night was our footsteps echoing against the concrete walls. Neither one of us had the energy left for much of a conversation. Our minds were filled with all that was happening. My brother's focus was on the treatment ahead; mine was on what it would take to get us home. 

The Saints: God’s Gift to the Suffering

Cancer was a new road for all of us. It wasn't just my immediate family learning how to navigate it—our friends and relatives also had to figure out how to journey alongside us. Even those who had experienced cancer themselves didn't know exactly what my brother was facing or what he would need along the way. Well-meaning loved ones kept asking how to help him, and we didn’t know how to respond. 

In the evenings leading up to my brother's first day of chemo, I sat on an air mattress in his living room and read out lists that I had found from a Google search. I pulled his blanket over my head and began listing items from another patient's Amazon wishlist. "Do you want to try peppermint tea? Do you think that would actually help if you have nausea? Do you even like peppermint tea?" We had no idea. 

But God did. Looking back on the weeks my brother underwent treatment, when we were overwhelmed and worn out and focused on figuring out how to get through the day, the Lord was at work in the midst of the grief to fill our circumstances with His grace. We didn’t know then how He was going to use His people and the gifts they gave to remind us of His presence.

After my brother’s last infusion, during the week he and I finally made our way back to Houston, I listened to the old hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” as I drove home: 

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine with 10,000 beside

Those lyrics describe the Lord’s faithfulness, but God’s people get to reflect those words when they’re caring for a family who is struggling. God uses His Church to cheer and to guide, to offer strength for the day and hope for the future, and to showcase blessings that are ours because we are His. 

There's not one single way to do that. Walking alongside a suffering family often requires compassion that’s as customized as their loved one’s cancer treatment. And yet, looking back on our journey, I’ve found ten gifts that were particularly helpful in reminding us of God’s faithfulness. If you know a family in your church or friend group who is currently walking through cancer, consider which of these the Lord may have you give to them today. 

10 Gifts to Give a Family Walking through Cancer

1. The gift of staying up-to-date and planning ahead. By the second day of my brother’s treatment, I had already lost track of who knew what and who still needed to be informed about what was happening. Is the family you are supporting sharing updates in a public forum? Many patients or family members will post updates on social media accounts, send out emails, share on websites such as CaringBridge, or let a church prayer group know what is happening. Are there existing updates you can follow? To take the time to read what’s been written instead of asking them to repeat the same information is an easy way to show kindness.

When I mentioned this to my brother, he added that it would make such a difference if you were to take this a step further and schedule encouragement. If you see that chemo will last nine weeks, set a reminder to send a text message checking in at week three and six and nine. Support will be heaviest at week one and celebrations will occur at the end, but what’s often deeply needed is hope to carry you through the middle. 

2The gift of genuine prayer. Few people will hear about a cancer diagnosis and not express concern. They’ll “like” a social media update or say they’re sending thoughts and prayers. Few actually go to the throne of grace and pray fervently for the family who is struggling (Heb. 4:16). Will you be one who genuinely cries out to the Lord? Those prayers will not only impact the people you’re praying for—you can count on God using them to shape your heart and strengthen your faith as well. (For some specific prompts, print out the post “Five Prayers for a Cancer Patient.

3. The gift of decision-making. When you’re mentally and physically worn out, making even small decisions feels like a bigger task. Look for ways to offer options:

  • If you’re serving the family by making them a meal or sending one via a delivery service, instead of asking, “What would you like for dinner?” try a question like, “Would you rather have Mexican food or Italian?” or “This restaurant has amazing burgers and salads: what sounds better to you?” 
  • If you’re making plans to spend time catching up with them, narrow down the dates or means of communication: “I would love to spend some time talking to you. Would it be easier if I came over tomorrow afternoon, or would you like to FaceTime tonight?”

4. The gift of a wishlist. Throughout treatment, my brother had an Amazon wishlist that we updated for him that included everything from medical items to fun games. It was not only helpful, it encouraged him and our entire family every time a new package arrived. Here are some of the items he received:

  • Card / Board Games. As you pick out some fun ones, consider how many players a game requires (how many family members will be together at a time?), how mentally demanding the game is (will it be tough to play during treatment?), and how much room it requires (so you can pack it up and take it to a small chemo cubicle).
  • Snacks. In the chemo ward, the rule is to eat whatever sounds good—with no judgment on the food’s nutritional value. My brother received everything from sour candy to cereal, as well as plastic bags to make it easier to transport snacks. He also got a big bag of GinGins, the ginger hard candy that is supposed to help with nausea. We never came to a conclusion on its effectiveness, but by the last day of chemo, our whole family was popping pieces like they were mints.
  • Drinks. My brother received pallets of Gatorade to help him stay hydrated and Boost nutritional drinks to add calories and protein. Someone sent him a water bottle with a fruit infuser that allowed us to add fresh flavor every day and a package of plastic smoothie straws to soothe his sore mouth.
  • Practical items. Paper plates and disposable silverware make mealtime simpler, and laundry detergent is a necessity—especially if the family is limited to a hotel laundry room.
  • Chemo comforts. Think fuzzy socks and the warmest blankets. Throw in an extra long lightning cable to be able to charge a phone while receiving an infusion. My brother also received dry erase markers so that we could write Bible verses on the whiteboard in his hospital room.
  • Cancer essentials. When my brother began losing his hair, another family member started contacting various organizations to see if they would be willing to send him baseball caps to wear. (They did!) In addition to wearing a hat everywhere he went, my brother also needed face masks to wear in public because of his compromised immune system. Other medical items to consider supplying: a heating pad, a smart scale to measure bodyweight, a blood pressure cuff, a digital thermometer, and some good lip balm.
  • Books and Entertainment. These will be specific to the interests of the family you’re serving, but you can’t go wrong with a dose of hope from some Revive Our Hearts resources.
  • Gift Cards. The possibilities are endless: you could give Amazon, food and grocery delivery services, local restaurants, pharmacies, or other favorite stores.
  • Post-It Notes or Polaroids. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth famously created a gratitude wall when her husband Robert was going through cancer. My brother and I made our own version using an Instax mini printer.

5. The gift of words. My phone is filled with screenshots from the weeks I spent with my brother. His nightstand is stacked with cards. You may not know what to say to the family who is struggling. You could send a message that’s not received the way you intended. It’s a risk, yes, but if the Lord is prompting you to reach out don’t remain silent.

The day my brother had his port procedure, my Revive Our Hearts editor Mindi Stearns sent a message that included a verse (Josh. 21:45) she had been meditating on. It was exactly what I needed to hear. At the end of the first day of chemo, my boss Erin Davis texted me, “A Psalm for chemo day 1” with Psalm 30:1–3. When I was too tired for words, the Scripture they shared strengthened my heart.

6. The gift of fresh groceries. Who knew what a blessing fresh avocados and a bagged salad mix from Trader Joes could be? When a family is spending more time at a hospital (or a hotel room) than in their own home, their fridge isn’t going to stay full of fresh fruits and vegetables. The next time you make a grocery run, what if you grabbed two sets of the produce that you’re already picking up for your own family and left it on their porch?

7. The gift of observation. You may not be a witness to every personal detail that’s happening right now, but what you are witnessing has the power to strengthen their faith. When they can’t see beyond what they’re facing that day, you may see evidence of fruitfulness that’s not apparent to them. When you see them praising God on a Sunday morning in spite of their circumstances, when you see them trusting the Lord in impossible situations, when you see them reflecting any aspect of the character of Christ—point it out to them. This is God at work in their lives; celebrate it.

8. The gift of grace and forgiveness. When the stress of the situation is impacting their mind and emotions, when they're frustrated or exhausted, how will you respond? When they get caught up in their own world and forget something important in yours, will you offer them forgiveness? It may not be deserved—that’s what makes this a gift of grace. It doesn’t mean you excuse sin, but your willingness to overlook small offenses is a selfless gift you can offer.

9. The gift of fun. Be the friend who not only sits and grieves with a hurting friend but who will also make them laugh until they cry. Look for opportunities to bring them some fun. If you’re not able to be with them in person, send them ridiculous videos. Make a plan to watch the same movie at the same time. Look up long-distance game night ideas and figure out how to adapt them for your situation.

10. The gift of hope. On days when their faith wavers and they fear the future, will you let them borrow your hope? Share what the Lord is teaching you, the truth that is comforting your heart, and why you continue to trust Him. 

Give the Gift of Grace

You likely know a family who is currently walking through cancer, just trying to make it through each day, just trying to find their way home. They need the Church to journey alongside them and remind them, morning by morning, of the Lord’s mercies in the midst of their dark night. 

When that family looks back on their cancer journey, may they see not only the grief of this season but the grace God provided in the midst of it. Today, you can give a gift that will serve as a testimony of His faithfulness—one they won’t forget for the rest of their lives. 

Looking for more ways to support a family walking through cancer? Katie will be on Grounded this morning to share some of the sweet ways God has used His people to show His faithfulness throughout her brother’s cancer journey. Tune in at 9:00 EDT, or catch the replay at ReviveOurHearts.com/grounded

About the Author

Katie Laitkep

Katie Laitkep

Katie Laitkep was working as a hospital teacher when God called her to join Revive Our Hearts as a staff writer. She serves remotely from Houston, Texas, where God sustains her through saltwater beaches, Scripture, and her local church. Katie's … read more …

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