The Gift Shop: A Patient with Cancer’s Vacation Spot


I became a frequent shopper at the hospital gift shop throughout my cancer experience.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Laura Yeager

After enduring some ungodly cancer surgery, such as a mastectomy or brain surgery or even just a lumpectomy, and you’ve lain in bed for a couple of days and grown tired of looking at four walls, your roommate, or the squawking television with the sound coming through the little handheld control device on your bed, you’ve just got to get up and go somewhere. But where? Tahiti? Mackinaw Island? Bermuda? No. All of these places are impossible to get to in your condition. Shoot! You just had a cancer operation, man. You’ve got tubes in you and are connected to devices that are displaying your vital signs.

There’s only one place to go to other than to the toilet or to walk the hall. The gift shop!

The hospital gift shop is a cancer patient’s paradise. Going there is like going on a brief vacation. Let’s examine some of the delights of this marvelous place:

1. Candy – If you’re allowed to eat it, this is the place to get it. Let’s face it, hospital food can be bland. There’s nothing better than biting into a Butterfinger candy bar while standing in your treaded slipper socks on the linoleum floor, clad in your hospital gown. Of course, before you left your room, you had a nurse make sure you were tied in back so that you wouldn’t embarrass yourself. Let yourself go! There’s also chewing gum and Coke and potato chips and Fritos. You might as well be in the islands somewhere; it’s such a happy place. The only thing that’s missing is a martini or a good beer.

2. Reading material – Best sellers, magazines, newspapers. Hurrah. It’s good to look at the headlines and see what’s going on in the world since you’ve been inside. But just a glance; you’ll get the idea of the misery on the outside before you know it. The hospital has much better vibes than reality, believe it or not. At least hospitals are concerned with maintaining life and ridding the world of illness.

3. Trinkets – Jewelry, little ceramic boxes, gifts of all kinds to give to a loved one, even yourself. If you examine the heart necklace closely enough, you’ll discover that you want to buy it as a souvenir of a tumor they just removed.

4. Flowers – Behind the counter, there are beautiful roses for visitors who didn’t have the time or the wherewithal to purchase the blooms on the outside. Maybe you’ll buy yourself a bouquet. Why not?

5. Clothing – Just as in vacation resort gift shops, there’s clothing – bed jackets, robes, packages of underpants – for those in need. But this doesn’t apply to you. You packed two suitcases for a short stay at the hospital.

6. Toiletries – Need something that the hospital doesn’t supply such as designer perfume? It’s here. Spray several kinds on your wrists and arms. You now smell interesting rather than dirty.

7. Nonpatients – Perhaps, one of the best things about the gift shop is that it’s populated by citizens of the healthy world. They’re wearing street clothes and their minds are a million miles away from sickness and stitches and drainage and pain! They’re smiling, and they put you in a grand mood. You, the cancer patient, standing in slipper socks and a hospital gown.

Oh, it’s great to go shopping with the healthy folks who have come to the gift shop not for a brief vacation like you, but for a pack of gum or a greeting card for their loved one.

Yes, while in the hospital, the gift shop is my favorite destination to escape. And I don’t even have to take a plane to get there.

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