50 Thoughtful Gift Ideas & Gestures for a Friend in Need

You get the phone call or email that a friend has just been diagnosed with [insert crappy diagnosis here] and you don’t know what to do. Do you call? If you call, what do you say? You opt not to call because:

1. You aren’t sure you should know.
2. You don’t know what you would say because you haven’t been in their shoes.
3. Or your friend must be swamped and you don’t want to bother her.

So, how then do you help a sick friend?

I get it. Crappy life situations lead to hard conversations. Not knowing what to expect or say often leaves many speechless. This is uncomfortable. From my experience, I truly appreciated the simple gestures made by friends near and far when I was diagnosed and re-diagnosed with cancer. Those that reached out without expecting me to return a call or email promptly made me smile. Those that proactively came up with ideas on how to help me so I didn’t have to ask were greatly appreciated and utilized. And those that came and sat with me and kept returning were my lifelines.

If I were to get on my soapbox and make a blanket statement about what somebody should do when they find out their friend is sick, I would say, “Know your audience.” How does your friend like to communicate? What might make her smile? Spending a few extra minutes to send a thoughtful package could literally make a stressed out, tired and anxious friend, who is too busy for visitors, laugh. Sending an email to a sick health-conscious friend about your interest in helping her research healthy food delivery services might relieve her tremendously.

So, in an effort to share my experiences as both the sick friend and the friend of someone sick, here is a list of my ideas.

50 Thoughtful Ideas and Gestures for a Friend in Need

Tried and True Idea:

1. A handwritten note by mail every week. Just letting her know you are thinking of her is priceless.

Creative Ideas:

2. Create a playlist with upbeat songs and burn them to a CD or gift them on iTunes.
3. Drawings, poems or art projects made by your kids.
4. A goofy limerick written by you or a comedian.
5. A video card. Have one person pick a song and ask friends to dance or sing to it. Have one person pull all videos together (iMovie) and send one video card. This can be done with kids, too.
6. A collage of old and new personal photos.
7. A collage from magazines of inside jokes or funny heartthrobs from childhood.
8. Come up with a weekly text theme. Send a funny memory via email or text on Throwback Thursday.

Comfort Clothes & Food Ideas:

9. A basket of juicy magazines.
10. New cute pajamas.
11. New yoga/sweat pants.
12. A basket full of organic teas or coffees.
13. A fruit bouquet from Edible Arrangements.
14. An organic fruit subscription.
15. A wine membership from California Wine Clubs.
16. Your favorite humorous book on CD or iTunes.
17. Yoga or exercise DVDs.
18. Goofy fun socks (Wonder Woman, neon high socks.)
19. An herb, tomato or small vegetable potted plant.
20. Soups. Cook or buy so that she can freeze.

Thoughtful Gift Card Ideas:

21. An iTunes gift card with a note listing your favorite happy songs.
22. An iTunes, Best Buy or Amazon gift card with a list of your all time favorite silly, funny, ridiculous movies to make her laugh.
23. An iTunes gift card with a list of apps that you like and think she would enjoy.
24. A grocery store gift card – one with online ordering and delivery.
25. A gift certificate to a local restaurant that delivers.

Family Gift Ideas:

26. Toys, books or any present for her child.
27. A favorite family board game.
28. A few different decks of cards including family favorites like Uno or personalized playing cards.
29. A yearly magazine subscription.
30. A Netflix subscription.
31. HBO or other TV series DVD box sets.

How to Help Ideas – Living Nearby:

32. Give her an option of a few days when you could come over and babysit or make dinner.
33. Give her an option of a few days when you will come over to tidy the house or do laundry.
34. Offer to do her specialty shopping (ex: Whole Foods, Target, etc.)
35. Organize a dinner caravan (if she wants it) – where neighbors and friends drop by to deliver food.
36. Offer to make her kid(s) lunch daily if your kids go to school together.
37. Offer to take her to a makeup boutique and get a cancer makeover (finding makeup to help accentuate her beauty while going through treatment.)
38. Play chauffeur to help grocery shop, run errands, or pick up a child.
39. Offer to attend meetings/doc appointments that her family can’t attend.

How to Help Ideas – Living Far:

40. Offer to be her chief researcher. What is she interested to learn more about to help with her treatment? (ex: good foods to eat after surgery, radiation side effects) She can then present these findings to her doctor to inquire more.
41. Offer to create a list of companies that support her hospital or the particular diagnosis. She might want to buy more Yoplait yogurt because they support breast cancer research organizations.
42. Organize a cleaning service like to clean her house.

Practical and Pretty Good Gift Ideas:

43. Buy or make a beautiful scarf (especially if she will go through chemo.)
44. Buy or make a cozy blanket.
45. A juicer machine or Vitamix for simple clean eating at home.
46. Hire a personal trainer to go to her house (or put together several YouTube Videos with simple workouts to increase energy and optimal health.)
47. If your company has extra “items” ranging from food to T-shirts, send a huge box so that she can bring a care packages to her appointments and “wow” her doctors.
48. Donate to a charity in her honor.
49. A good luck charm to bring to appointments. Mine is a Yoda Keychain.
50. A beautiful notebook, journal or binder to store all appointment information.

Need some more ideas? Check out Happiness through Hardship-The Podcast mini-episodes about cancer. Our second mini-episode is about what to say, do or gift for a friend diagnosed with cancer.

Want a practical gift for a friend or family member in need?

Your purchase of Happiness Through Hardship: will support metastatic breast cancer research through The Cancer Couch Foundation. Happiness Through Hardship: A Guide and Journal for Cancer Patients, Their Caregivers and Friends During an Initial Diagnosis can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and This book is dedicated to three angels, Ellen, Mary Ann and Meghan for guiding me through my first few weeks of diagnosis.

Looking for a speaker to inspire your organization or business team? Hire me to present or facilitate a seminar on resiliency, positivity or wellness in the workplace. Check out my business website and demo reel at I can be reached at

Some of my favorite gift ideas now:


This post may contain affiliate links meaning I may receive a commission with no costs to you. I pro-actively try various products and then affiliate myself with these items that I already use and love.


  1. Great post, Caryn.
    Would love to do all 50 for you :)

  2. Kelly Buchsbaum

    Great post, Caryn! Everyone struggles with this situation! I know that when my mom was sick, a friend sent her a card every week and was was one of the simple things that I’ll never forget! Thanks for sharing….miss your smiling face!!!

  3. Caryn Sullivan

    Kelly – Thanks for sharing. What an amazing friend. A priceless gesture filled with love for your mom and for you, too. xoxo

  4. The best are 35 and 36. The most needed.
    No.43? Let’s not cover it up.

  5. I love this! I have such a hard time knowing what to do for a friend in need. I don’t want to be pushy or not responsive enough and these are some great ideas! Thanks for sharing this at the Happy Now Link Up!

    • This was one of my favorite fun posts to write because I received many of these items or thought about giving them to others. I know that many of my friends, especially the far away ones, liked helping and wanted to be a part of my journey. There thoughts, gestures and items really helped me feel loved and thus heal. Have a great rest of the week.

  6. This is a fantastic list, and I so wish I had read it several weeks ago. A friend just finished her last chemo treatment this week — yay! We tried to get together several times over the past few months. Unfortunately, she had to cancel each time because she was sick, but I really struggled with ways to let her know I was thinking of her. I’m afraid I didn’t prove to be the best of friends during this time just because I wasn’t sure what to do. Saving this list! And many blessings to you in your walk with this disease!
    Wendy recently posted…Everyday, BETTER! Why A Good Prank Is A Good Thing

    • Thanks for the kind words. I’m sorry to hear about your friend and hope that she is recuperating well after finishing chemo. Listen, no one knows the right thing to do or say…so don’t be so hard on yourself. Sounds like you are a thoughtful person and I’m sure a thoughtful friend. Just acknowledging her and continuing to connect will probably make her feel loved. xoxo

  7. These are all wonderful ideas! Never underestimate the power of a stack of juicy magazines :)
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  8. I need one of those salt lamps! And those wonderwoman socks! These are fantastic ideas, you are a GREAT friend.
    Kristen recently posted…10 Truths of Going on Vacation With Kids

    • Me, too. I love salt lamps. I want one for every room. I need to find one that looks a little more beachy for the downstairs, though. xoxo

  9. I am gift challenged, as in I never remember to buy people gifts, rarely no what to get anyone, and usually end up late with my gift. I should read posts like this everyday. I have a long way to go.
    April recently posted…The Stories of Our Boys Reader Survey

    • Thanks for the kind words. I do love creating thoughtful gift lists…so send me a note on social media or on the blog if you get stuck in a bind and I will try and think of something for you.

  10. Such great ideas for gifts. When you have a friend who needs a pick-me-up these would all work great because first and foremost, they show you care.
    New here and I really like your blog! Adding it to my BlogLovin List!
    Anne recently posted…Piggy Banks For Boys: 5 Awesome choices

    • Thanks so much for the kind words. This post is truly one of my favorites. During hardship, so many friends and family members don’t know what to do or say. I found that those who authentically tried, really made me feel good. Welcome to the writing/blogging community. I hope you enjoy it. I will check out your site, too. Thanks.

  11. Samantha

    Hello everyone, i have breast cancer and i have been treating it for the past 2 years . I want for different therapy sessions and did all sorts of bioipsy, took different kinds of drugs but there was no cure, until i contacted a physician, dr davids and explained my situation to him. He sent me cannabis oil(marijuana) and gave me instructions on how to use it, and after a few weeks the lump in my breasts dissolved completely and vanished. You can contact dr davids via email on davidcancertreatment

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  14. BarbaraMae

    This is great because the holidays can be a hard time for many people. Thanks for the good ideas on how to help.

  15. WOW! What an amazing blog! I am praying you will be free from this horrible disease for good! MOST of these things I have already asked my friend, like cleaning her house, sitting wit her, etc. Her husband is the one who has colon cancer and 7 weeks out of surgery, he is not healing as he should. He cannot eat much of anything. He has no appetite. She is SO harried and both are SO very depleated from stress, worry, fatigue as I know u and ur family have been through. Phone calls they appreciate, but, as much as she DOES appreciate the THOUGHT of visits, she has SO much to do for her husband, so it is not really a good time for that yet. She has to dress his wounds daily. So, she doesn’t have much time for much of anything. I have been wracking my brain out as to WHAT I can do to help them. The video card idea is a good one, as I KNOW she would love this from the kids at church. Gift baskets are no good to them, as I said he can not eat much and she doesn’t feel like it either. So I am thinking about doing the weekly notes/emails to maybe make them laugh! Thank u so much for all this info., and if u can think of anything else I could do for them, I would appreciate it. This blog is a wonderful testament to you and your family and to your wonderful friends. May blessings of healing continue in your life! :) :)

    • Wow. I can’t believe I’m just seeing your note now. Thank you so very much for the kind words. I’m glad that you have found this post helpful. I spent a lot of time thinking through these ideas to make them thoughtful, too. Did you try the video card? How did it work? Most iPhones today have iMovie and it’s pretty easy. If not, maybe you can just video the kids at church singing a song for him and then showing her. Other thoughtful/meaningful ideas – check for free resources for those going through hardship – offers some financial help and social work by phone, Cleaning for A Reason donates free cleaning services for those (possibly with just breast cancer but it’s worth checking into,) have someone create a playlist of songs and put it on CD. (During my surgeries and radiation, I was allowed to bring in music for them to play during it.) If they have a CD player in their car, this might be nice to listen to when they go back and forth to doctors appointments. I will keep thinking of some other ideas. I’m sending lots of love and healing vibes their way. xoxo – Caryn

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  17. My mother’s birthday is coming up in a few months. I know she loves to receive fun packages in the mail. I really love your tip about using a handwritten note by mail. My mom is always on her feet. She also loves to come home and just soak in a tub for a while. Maybe I could find something that could include bath and body care items. I’m pretty busy and don’t have a lot of time to do this myself. I’ll try and find someone that can do this and deliver it.

    • HI Lucy. Sending birthday wishes to your mom. I love epsom salt baths. Maybe you can create your own salt basket with epsom salts and essential oils. It’s not time consuming and might be fun for her to experiment with different oils. Thanks for checking us out.

  18. Wow, great post! It’s Christmas soon, I will definitely need to send some get well card soon <3 Thanks for posting it !
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  19. C Keenan

    A few years ago my beautiful daughter gave me a tin with 100 notes for my eyes only of things she loves about me, memories we share and things she looked forward to us doing together. I could only open one note a day. I had 100 days of pure joy all because of her kindness. A friend of mine was in hospital for weeks following an operation. To cheer her a group of our friends wrote similar notes and we put them in a heart shaped tin for her. Who doesn’t like to feel loved??

    • This is amazing. I’ve heard (and have done) the master list of 70, but the person saw them all at once. I LOVE that you open one each day making the gift – opening of each note a positive way to start the day. Happy New Year.

  20. Hi Caryn,

    Great Post on gifting ideas ! Loved the extensive approach.
    Best Gifts recently posted…The Return Gifts you wished you had received

  21. A very nice article,

    I appreciate your article. You shared just unique and beautiful gift ideas. I enjoyed reading your article. we can also gift the beautiful and charming flower bouquet. Flowers are the symbols to express our feelings.

    • Thank you for the kind words. I believe thoughtful gifts really help with healing and make the patient feel loved. And yes, a flower bouquet can do that, too. Have a great week.

  22. Wow, this is something that wishes to choose and love the way that you have represented. Choosing any random at the last minutes for my friend and getting all that i need by ordering online using coupons is what i used to do but this approach surely something that i have to try. Thanks mate

  23. Awesome gift ideas :)

  24. Nicely written and most helping full article for the people over there. For men, it is the hardest thing to round up what to buy for her and your article actually solved all those queries. Thanks mate for this amazing article and definitely a weapon to use whenever i have to make darling happy.

  25. Love your list! When some friends/neighbors were diagnosed with cancer, I took them a nutribullet blender and made up packs of frozen smoothie mixes (frozen fruits and healthy additives like hemp, chia, or flax seeds and raw nuts) and included some low-sugar, “clean” juice for blending. I knew in this way that they would get some of the needed nutrients they would require to heal faster and to strengthen their immune system during treatment.

    • That is amazing. Such a thoughtful and meaningful gift. I’m sure it was helpful to your friend while in need, too. Sending healing vibes to them.

  26. Wow! There’s a lot of choices here. Now I have my complete gift guide! It’s great! Thanks for sharing this informative and practical post!

  27. Thanks for finally writing about >50 Thoughtful Gift Ideas & Gestures
    for a Friend in Need – Pretty Wellness <Loved it!
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  28. Wuthi G.

    Hi Caryn. Great ideas! I’m finding gifts for my son and daughter in this X’mas coming. My son love music and start learning guitar. My daughter love creative things. I’m interesting your 50 Thoughtful Gift Ideas. By the way, I’m thinking to buy a guitar for my son I’m looking here What do you think about it? And for my daughter, I think to follow your ideas from the lists. Thank you very much for your sharing. It would be very helpful to me.

  29. What a wonderful list of ideas. These are the sorts of things that will really show the love much more than just a card. Definitely pinning this for future reference.

    Thank you for the heart filled post!
    Megan recently posted…Handpicked Beach Lover Gifts For Him

    • Thanks so much for the kind words. I’m glad that you found the gesture/gift list useful. Keep me posted if you have any questions or ideas. xoxo

  30. Very nice article about gift ideas thanks for sharing….

  31. Hi,

    Great topic that your writing!! this time that is the biggest confusion what types of gits, and which type of items for a gift. I also looking for the Online electronic store that I will purchase some batter option.

  32. These ideas are awesome, i actually put together my own custom made arrangements out of lanterns and dish gardens, check it out let me know if you like them!

  33. A good gift for Others
    I wanted to let others know about a good gift for people with a chronic illness. Put my 20 years of living with MS into a 120 page book. I want to help others see the glass as “half full”

  34. Thanks for sharing this post. I am very interested in this topic. I would like to share my opinion on this. is same kind of topic

  35. Hi CARYN SULLIVAN , First of all I would like to thank you for this great article on gift ideas . I would like to say some gadget item can be also good idea such as small drone , fidget spinner , electric lighter .etc

    • Thanks Ashley, I do love healthy gadgets, too. In the past, I’ve included activity trackers for kids and adults. As you mentioned a fidget spinner could be a good gadget for health/calm. Keep coming with the healthy holiday ideas. Thank you.

  36. Amazing Blessings blog for your New year at New year Ideas for friends. you will love it.

  37. Thanks for the great post. I am very interested in this post. If you are seeking for best presents or gifts for your friends, you can visit my site
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  39. I really appreciate your article. Nice Gift Ideas.

  40. Debbie Yoder

    Thanks for sharing! These are useful ideas!

  41. We make cardboard gift boxes…

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  43. Good post, I am going to spend more time researching this topic. Yeah, bookmarking this wasn’t a bad decision great post!

  44. Hello @Caryn,
    I love the ideas that you have shared here with us. Thank you so much for this helpful content with us @Caryn. I will definitely try this gift ideas for my home party. Keep sharing like this.
    Thanks again.
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  45. @caryn Great! Thank you so much for these amazing ideas. These all gift ideas are absolutely cool. I just loved them. For sure, I will try them. Keep sharing such posts. Many thanks! Eva
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  46. Hi Caryn Sullivan, Exactly we are often are forgot birthday celebrations with our friends and family members I didn’t understand how to celebrate with the best gift but now give a good idea. Thank you so much. Love to come here again.
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  47. Good post, I am going to spend more time researching this topic
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