Gift Ideas for a Cancer Patient

triage-cancer-blog-gift-ideasWhen someone close to you is sick, the instinct is to shower that person with love in the form of chocolate, flowers, and balloons. This is a very kind instinct, but when someone is going through cancer treatment or in the hospital, you may need to rethink these gifts.

Chocolate and flowers each may present a possible problem for a cancer patient.  Depending on the type of cancer they have, they may have dietary restrictions, and sugar can be a forbidden ingredient.  Many hospitals are now banning flowers because of the germs and bugs they may carry. And you may want to stay away from mylar balloons, which pose a risk to power lines and there is a worldwide helium shortage.

So, what should you bring to a cancer patient? Really, anything that will bring comfort to the patient and is allowed in a hospital environment.  Here are a couple of ideas:

  • A cozy set of button-up pajamas, robe or slippers
  • Warm, fuzzy socks
  • A soft blanket
  • A basket of unscented lotions and lip balms
  • A good, funny book
  • A nice journal and pen
  • Magazines
  • Music or relaxation/meditation exercises
  • Movies, a Netflix/Amazon subscription, or an iTunes/Amazon gift card to download their own


You can also give the gift of your time. Besides visiting someone, you could offer to help with daily activities. For example, you could babysit young children. If their parent is in the hospital, you could take them for a walk or out to get something to eat. Pick up their mail, feed a pet, or water plants. You could even offer to help them sort their medical bills and other paperwork.


Use these ideas, or use them to spark your own ideas.  What every cancer patient needs more than anything is love and support, and any gift will be appreciated, because it is the thought that counts!

3 Steps to Building a Personal Medical Record

by Amy Thompson

A personal medical record is a compilation of all your medical information, including test personal-medical-record-blogresults, treatment reports, and notes written by your health care team. While each office and facility keeps a record of your care, it’s important to have a complete file for your own use, so you can share it with a new doctor, review at home to better understand your treatment, or manage your health insurance claims, taxes, and other legal matters. Here is what to include, how to compile it, and the best ways to organize it and store it for safekeeping.

Step 1. What to Include

A complete personal medical record should include the following information:

  • Your diagnosis, including the specific cancer type and stage
  • Date you were diagnosed
  • Copies of diagnostic test results and pathology reports
  • Complete treatment information, such as chemotherapy drug names and doses, sites and doses of radiation therapy
  • Start and end dates for all treatments
  • Results of treatment and any complications or side effects
  • Information about palliative care, including medications for pain management, nausea, or other side effects
  • A schedule for follow-up care
  • Contact information for the doctors and treatment centers involved in your diagnosis and treatment, as well as others who have cared for you in the past, such as your family doctor
  • Dates and details of other major illnesses, chronic health conditions, and hospitalizations
  • Family medical history
  • Details of past physical exams, including cancer screening tests and immunizations

Step 2. How to Compile Your Personal Medical Record

Keeping track of your medical records might feel like a huge task, but it’s worth it in the long run.  The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) offers cancer treatment plans and summaries that can help keep track of information about your diagnosis and treatment.

Compiling this information on an ongoing basis will create a complete and easily accessible view of your health. Remember these strategies to help you collect the latest copies of your records:

  • When you have a diagnostic test or procedure, ask for a copy of the results or report
  • At each appointment, ask your doctor or nurse for a copy of anything new that’s been added to your file or electronic medical record
  • If you spent time in the hospital, ask for a copy of your records when you’re discharged
  • Keep copies of your medical bills and insurance claims as they occur
  • Talk to your doctor if you need help figuring out which records to include
  • If collecting this information feels overwhelming, ask your friends or family for help. While you have to sign off on any requests for personal medical information, they can fill out forms or make phone calls for you.

Step 3. Organizing and Storing your Personal Medical Record

There are different ways to organize your medical records. To help figure out what works best for you, talk to other cancer survivors about what they have done, or visit a local office supply store to see what sort of organizers are available. Here are a few options:

  • Use a filing cabinet, 3-ring binder, or desktop divider with individual folders
  • Store files on a computer, where you can scan and save documents or type up notes from an appointment
  • Store records online using an e-health tool; certain online records tools may be accessed, with permission, by doctors or family members
  • Organize your records by date or by categories, such as treatments, tests, doctor appointment, etc.

However you decide to store your personal medical record, be sure to keep them in a secure location, like a safe deposit box, fireproof home safe, or password-protected files. If you decide to use an online service, carefully check the security and confidentiality measures the company uses to protect your information. A family member or friend could also keep a copy in case of emergency.

Get more tips for organizing your medical records.

This post originally appeared at on August 25, 2016. © 2005-2016 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

How to Support Someone with Cancer

Do you have a family member or a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer?

Have you been wondering how you might be able to provide support or do anything to help?

Often we don’t know what to say other than, “Let me know if there is anything that I can Triage Cancer Blog Supporting a Friend with Cancerdo.” While well-intentioned, an open-ended offer of support is unlikely to be followed up on. It can be more helpful to offer to do specific things for your family member or friend.

There are a number of helpful lists of suggestions available in the resources listed below, and we offer a few additional ways to offer practical help, here:

  • Practical help
    • Attend medical appointments and take notes
    • Sort mail
    • Sort medical bills, insurance company paperwork, and medical records
    • Make follow up calls to providers and insurance companies
    • Complete appeals paperwork
    • Apply for financial assistance programs
    • Pay bills
    • Create a spreadsheet of tax deductible medical and dental expenses ( to make tax time easier
    • Research clinical trials or treatment options
    • Schedule appointments
  • Errands
    • Provide transportation to medical appointments
    • Go grocery shopping
    • Drop off prepared meals
    • Pick up prescriptions
    • Pick up/send mail/buy stamps
    • Pick up dry cleaning
    • Pick up thank you cards (for your loved one to send to others who have helped)
  • Babysit
    • Pick up children from school
    • Take them to extracurricular activities
  • Household chores
    • Cook
    • Wash dishes
    • Do laundry
    • Vacuum
    • Dust
    • Change bedsheets
    • Change lightbulbs
    • Organize a closet
    • Rake leaves
    • Mow the law
    • Water plants
    • Feed/take care of pets


Supporting a Friend Who Has Cancer:

Helping a Loved One with Cancer Long Distance:

These websites also have tips on how to help family members and friends and have great tools like calendars to schedule meal delivery, transportation to treatment, and more:

Don’t be hurt or offended if your friend or family member doesn’t ask for your help or declines your help when you offer. Even if your friend or family member doesn’t need help, your willingness to be supportive will be appreciated.

Creating a bridge of caring

CaringBridge Logo

CaringBridge was born online in 1997 after my friends JoAnn and Darrin had a premature baby named Brighid. That first website allowed Brighid’s family to communicate with loved ones by posting regular journal entries about their health journey. Family members and friends responded with messages of hope and encouragement. The site served as a bridge of caring between Brighid’s parents and their concerned loved ones. Indeed, it was not only a bridge but a lifeline.

Sadly, after a nine-day struggle, Brigid died. But despite her short life, she made a difference in the lives of millions of people around the world. The name CaringBridge grew organically out of the experience of “caring for Brighid.”

It was obvious to me that this online connection could help other families experiencing a life or health event to share what’s happening without the burden of having to call dozens of individuals to repeat the details. It allows families to focus their energies on what matters most.

CaringBridge was a personal-health social network, seven years before the arrival of Facebook. Since its beginnings, hundreds of thousands of individual CaringBridge sites have been activated, generating billions of site visits. Every day, CaringBridge brings together more than half a million people. It’s available to anyone, anywhere, at no cost.

On a daily basis, I hear how CaringBridge has impacted people’s lives. My own appreciation for the power of CaringBridge grew exponentially when I started sites for my 94-year-old grandma, Bessie, and for my mother, Bonnie, who was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in 1998. In 2001, I reactivated my mother’s site when she was stricken with liver cancer, which took her life that year. Those intensely emotional firsthand experiences spurred me on even more.

Not a day goes by that I don’t feel blessed to know that the work I do brings comfort, love and strength to others in their hour of need. The overwhelming majority of users say CaringBridge made their health journey easier. I have learned how essential the power of community is to the healing process.

Sona Mehring is founder and CEO of the global nonprofit organization, based in Eagan, MN, and author of “Hope Conquers All.”

How Wellist Can Help You?

Is it possible to be prepared for a cancer diagnosis?

Even with the best doctors using the latest research to help, life becomes more complicated.

There are the obvious lifestyle complications, like appointments to get to, prescriptions to be filled, and Wellist Logo Blue (Transparent)symptoms to be monitored–the things that make up the “medical” part of a diagnosis.

But then there is the impact that cancer has on one’s day-to-day life. Tasks that once were easy, like picking up around the house, cooking a family dinner, or shoveling the steps after another snowy winter, are suddenly overwhelming. The to-do list can pile up, leaving patients and their families feeling flat out exhausted and stretched thin.

In fact, unmet social needs drive “as much as 40% of health outcomes.”

That’s where Wellist comes in.

Every day, we see people shoulder this incredible burden without enough support. This is the reason Wellist, an online directory of 3,500+ services in the greater Boston area and about 600 services available nation-wide, exists. We also understand that in times of challenge, finances can be tight. Wellist is completely free to use thanks to our clients, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Quest Diagnostics.

Our users are unique and diverse. We’ve helped young mothers who have just been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer find someone to watch their kids after school. We’ve helped men living alone find someone to mow the lawn, and we’ve helped daughters who no longer live with their parents make sure Mom and Dad are eating properly and that the house is kept clean. No matter what your story is, we have solutions to help.

“I don’t want to ask my friends to clean my house but it’s what I really need,” is a phrase we hear over and over again. On the other hand, friends and family desperately want to help, but usually don’t know quite what to do. Our solution is the Wellistry, a shareable gift registry, that allows patients to make a list of what services would be most helpful and share it with others who want to help.

Tips for Cancer Caregivers

Becoming a caregiver for a family member or friend can be intimidating. The role of caregiver can become even more exhausting if you don’t find time to take care of yourself. Taking a few breaks each week to do the things you enjoy will help make you an even Triage Cancer Blog Tips Caregiversbetter caregiver for your loved one. Maintaining part of your old lifestyle, whether it’s grabbing dinner with friends, going to a workout class, or just curling up to read a good book, will help you reduce stress and be an even stronger support system to the person you are helping fight cancer. By taking time to for yourself and learning how you can help your friend or family member, you will be able to provide compassionate care and learn more about yourself along the way. For more tips on how to cope with becoming a caregiver, we turned to our friend and partner, Sara Goldberger. In her article, Tips for Cancer Caregivers, she outlines ten tips to help you become stronger and gain control of your new role as a caregiver.

  1. Have a Support Syste: One way to cope with the emotions of your new role as caregiver is to talk with others who share similar experiences. Finding a support group will help you learn from others and reduce feelings of isolation. There are a few types of support group. You might prefer face-to-face, telephone, or online meetings.  Assistance from a healthcare provider, faith-based communities, or toll-free helplines are also great options.
  1. Be Informed: Take the time to learn about the cancer diagnosis your loved one has received. Understanding the stages, treatment options, and possible side effects of medications makes caring for someone with cancer easier and helps you feel more in control.
  1. Accept New Change: As you take on new tasks, you may need to adjust your old routines. You may be asked for advice on medical choices, managing finances, and taking on new daily chores. It is important to maintain a balance between these new tasks and the daily activities of your own life. You might have to order takeout instead of cooking at home or you might not have time to finish the last load of laundry, and that’s okay. One approach is to manage each day’s priorities as they come.
  1. Recharge and Unwind: It’s also valuable to take breaks by going for a walk around the block or closing your eyes for 10 minutes in a comfortable place. Taking time for yourself helps not just you, but helps you provide the best care for your loved one. Recharging your mind and body helps you avoid burnout and any other emotional effects you’re facing. It is also beneficial to seek spiritual rejuvenation in some way, whether or not you subscribe to a specific religion.
  1. Maintain Old Friendships: Many caregivers feel a loss of personal time over the course of a loved one’s illness. One way to combat this is to stay involved with your circle of friends and family through involvement in your community or setting a weekly visit with a best friend.
  1. Have a Plan for the Future: Uncertainty is a common feeling for both caregiver and patient throughout treatment and disease progression. Even though planning may be difficult, it can help. Schedule fun activities to break-up the monotony of going to appointments and going through treatment. It is also important to plan for the future through having all the necessary paperwork—such as: a power of attorney, advanced directives, and a will. Having this taken care of early will allow everyone peace of mind during this difficult time.
  1. Let Others Give You a Helping Hand: One way to help relieve some of the anxiety of being a caregiver is to let those who offer to help you pitch in. It can be helpful to create a list of all the caregiving tasks you need help with, so friends and family have specific choices. There are resources to help you manage tasks and set-up a schedule for friends and family to help you.
  1. Keep up Your Own Health: In order to be strong for your loved one, you also have to take care of yourself. Remember to schedule checkups, screenings, try to eat well, and get plenty of sleep.
  1. Use Stress Management Technique: Mind-body exercises, such as meditation, yoga, listening to music, or deep breathing helps to relieve stress. It has been shown that these practices also help enhance the immune system’s function and helps you relax, both physically and mentally.
  1. Do What You Can: Never forget that no one can do everything. You cannot handle everything alone, but together you can get through this difficult time. Acknowledge when you are feeling stressed, and remember that these feelings are okay and you will get through them.

Triage Cancer offers a number of resources to those coping with cancer, whether you need to understand your rights or to access financial support. Additionally, many of our partners can help you find the type of support you are looking for. If you are ever feeling alone during this hard time, remember that there are always people there to help you stay strong!

About the Cancer Support Community

The Cancer Support Community (CSC) is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to providing support, education, and hope to people affected by cancer. Likely the largest employer of psychosocial oncology mental health professionals in the United States, CSC offers a menu of personalized services and education for all people affected by cancer. Its global network brings the highest-quality cancer support to the millions of people touched by cancer. These support services are available free of charge through a network of professionally led, community-based centers, hospitals, and community oncology practices, online and over the phone, so that no one has to face cancer alone. Learn more at


Changes to the FMLA!

FMLAThe Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that allows employees to take time off from work because of their own serious medical condition; to care for a spouse, a parent, or a child; or for certain military family leave.

Click here to view the Triage Cancer Fact Sheet on the FMLA.

While the FMLA can prove to be a useful tool for caregivers, to help balance job responsibilities and time spent caregiving, caregivers are only able to take time off if they are caring for a spouse, a parent, or a child. That doesn’t include parents-in-law, grandparents, siblings, or aunts or uncles. And until recently, the FMLA’s definition of “spouse” looked to the law of the place where people currently live, rather than where the marriage took place.

This meant that if a couple were legally married in one state, but moved to a state where same-sex marriage was not legal, than they would not be able to use the FMLA.

The Department of Labor has released a final rule, which:

  • Changes the definition of spouse to include individuals who are in legal same-sex marriages, common law marriages, and marriages that were validly entered into outside of the U.S., if they could have been entered into in at least one U.S. state.
  • Looks to the state law where the marriage took place, rather than where the couple lives

This final rule goes into effect on March 27, 2015.

For information about the FMLA, visit

I Have What???

“I Have What??? You just have to be kidding me” was my initial response to my diagRich Newsnosis of breast cancer.  I knew it was possible for a man to have breast cancer, but I also knew it was very rare.

My story is rather unique as my wife had passed away from the same diagnosis after her 10 year battle.  Now me? What are the odds would be for a married couple to both be diagnosed with breast cancer?

I have worn different hats with this disease: caregiver, patient, and now survivor.  Being a caregiver, and watching loved one suffer from the side effects of chemotherapy, was a very hard thing for me.  Being a caregiver taught me what to expect when I was diagnosed. It actually might have saved my life.

Being an ex-athlete and physical education teacher kept me in pretty decent shape. I would work out at the health club about five times a week. I am also very proactive with my health. So when I noticed a marble-sized lump by my left nipple I knew what it could be. While most men believe that it might be a cyst, I knew better.

Without hesitating I made an appointment with my physician, which was the starting point. Like all doctors he would not commit to a diagnosis, but he did tell me that if it was malignant catching it early was important. He then gave me the contact information of a breast surgeon and that is where my journey began.

You can read more about my journey in my book I Have What??? – One Man’s Journey Through Breast Cancer.

My goal for speaking up about my journey is to educate everyone that breast cancer is not only a women’s disease.  By reading my book people will get a glimpse into exactly what a cancer journey feels like: from what to expect when you go in for surgery to how the side-effects might feel.  From my experience I hope people realize that they are not alone, even if they might feel like they are.

Richard Wiener is the successful author of I Have What??? One Man’s Journey Through Breast Cancer. This book chronicles the raw emotional and physical experiences from a male point of view, taking the reader on a personal ride from Wiener’s discovery of the lump, to processing the diagnosis, managing the treatments, and eventually learning how to move forward. Through Rich’s unfiltered candor, he ultimately reminds us of the fragility of life and the power of the human spirit.  For more information about Rich and his books visit