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Dangerous Gifts for People with Chronic Illnesses (and Gift Ideas to Swap Them With)

Dangerous Gifts for People with Chronic Illnesses (and Gift Ideas to Swap Them With)

Surprise! (Not…)

I’m a big fan of samples, which makes Christmas gifts or other exchanges a pleasure. I love trying out new textures, sniffing new scents, and figuring out if the latest product on the block is a fad or of true value. Yet, samples might be dangerous gifts for some. It may be their worst nightmare, and I’m not speaking solely from a perspective of mere taste or habit.

Certain products can actually be physically harmful or triggering for people with various chronic illnesses. In this post I will list down some of my favourite presents to receive, but people you should never, ever give them to. Not even to ‘try out a little bit and see’.

*Post Updated: 05 December 2021

*Note: This article is meant for educational purposes, but I am not a doctor. Nothing should be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own doctor(s) before changing or adding any new treatment protocols. I have however, done my due diligence citing from reliable sources. Experiences from other blogs are based on each author’s personal experiences.

This post also contains affiliate links. It will cost you nothing to click on them. I will get a small referral fee from purchases you make, which helps with the maintenance of this blog (approx. $100/month needed). Thank you!

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Dangerous Gifts for People with Chronic Illnesses (and Gift Ideas to Swap Them With)

Dangerous Gifts #1: Perfumes

I’ll start with a landmine topic. I love perfumes, and it used to be a hobby of mine when I could still afford it whilst working full-time. I’d order samples online, and sniff odours from past, present and future.

You know the feeling of being bound to something – be it a notebook, watch or your phone – that you feel a little naked without it? Yea I never leave the house without spraying a carefully selected perfume to match my mood.

It’s almost like a precursor to how you might expect interactions with me for the day or night to be like. You can check out my Fragrantica profile here, where I used to review, search for and classify my favourite perfumes.

Never, Ever Give Perfumes To…

Have you heard of people with MCAS (Mast Cell Activation Syndrome)? They’re basically allergic to most of the world.

Anything can trigger an anaphylaxis reaction (a full blown allergic reaction), which can even lead to death. From reading blogs of people with MCAS over the years, I’ve learned that scents are one of their biggest triggers. Scents can also trigger flare ups in other chronic illnesses such as ME/CFS and migraine.

It’s also one that’s almost unavoidable in public spaces. Being trapped in an elevator in a shroud of noxious perfume, or getting a deadly sniff of poison when you turn a street corner sounds like a scary way to live.

Perfumes were made to highlight your personality, make you smell good, and freshen up the air around you. Never thought that they could be such dangerous gifts, did you?

If you still want to share your love for perfumes with them in some other way, a good book might be an ideal alternative. This is one of my favourite books about the chemistry and science of perfume making. Fascinating, to say the very least.

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Scents are major triggers in illnesses such as: Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, Migraine & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Here is a list of some of my favourite advocates and their blogs, where they share their experiences with scents, and the horror they can bring:

Dangerous Gifts #2: Hand Creams, Body Lotions & Makeup

Christmas is the season where I receive the most hand cream, body lotion and makeup samples as gifts, and I love it! I am by nature a curious person, even when it comes to minor things like ‘how does this smell or feel like?’.

I love most scents from Crabtree & Evelyn. In fact, I apply a different scented hand and body lotion every night before I go to bed, once again based on my mood. You can see a pattern of how I use scents to represent how I feel and lift my mood by now!

Textures also matter a great deal. You’d think that I’d be used to stickiness and greasiness by now, living in a humid climate like Singapore, but I haven’t. Whilst my skin has a tendency to be dry, I still prefer textures that are on the more fluid side. I’ve gotten used to oils by now as well.

My skin is also somewhat discoloured as a side effect of medications, and using serums with vitamin C helps a lot. I am currently using Alphascience’s Tannic [CF] Serum as recommended by my facial therapist, and find that it really helps with the discoulouration and dullness.

And with it being the festive season, makeup items can be such fun with all the colours and packaging – from classy to chic to sweet! It’s always fun for me to try a new brand or product, and you can never have too many lipsticks, I say! My favourites currently are from Laneige and MAC.

The colours are suitable for my skin tone, and Laneige’s moisturising coloured lip balm feels good, too. MAC has an incredible range of lipsticks, and I’ve gotten a few free sticks using their ‘Back to MAC’ recycling programme. All you need to do is collect and return six of their products to receive a free lipstick of your choice.

Hand Creams, Body Lotions & Makeup are Bad Gift Ideas For…

Once again, people with MCAS are at high risk, so avoid giving such gifts entirely. Anything applicable can also be harmful to people with skin allergies, or autoimmune disorders such as psoriasis and Discoid Lupus.

The best thing you can do is to show up for them or visit them, without using any scented products. No perfumes, scented body lotions or shower gels, if possible, prior to arriving!

Of course, they need to shower and maintain their bodies as well, so if you want to give them gifts in this category, be sure to check with them first. Generally products that are as natural, organic and ‘free from’ are best. Scrutinise the ingredient list – the lesser the better, and the items should be pronounceable.

Whilst you may want to surprise them, all parties would probably receive more joy if you checked to see if these are dangerous gifts for them beforehand.

Here are some blogs that share more about their conditions, and why these kinds of gifts aren’t ideal for them one bit:

Dangerous Gifts #3: Clothing & Jewellery

Clothing and accessories can be tricky to purchase even for the average person. There’s the matter of style preference, then size, which can vary slightly for every brand.

Some of my favourite presents have been earrings, necklaces and bags, however. Usually these are classic designs that won’t fail you. But I also love receiving the occasional dress or accessory from friends who snapped them up because ‘it reminded them of me’!

Clothing & Jewellery are Bad Gift Ideas For…

People with sensitive skin, allergies or immune disorders such as psoriasis, allodynia, or eczema might not be able to handle such gifts, even if they wanted to.

The culprits can include textures or chemicals used to make them. Nickel is also a common skin allergen, as well as latex.

On top of materials, sensitivities to heat or cold can play a role, too. Some examples of chronic illnesses that could be affected by temperature, sometimes drastically so, are: Dysautonomia & POTS, ME/CFS, Migraine Disorder, Erythromelalgia and Myasthenia Gravis.

Clothing and jewellery can still make for pretty and practical gifts however, but you might just want to check on your loved one’s specific sensitivities or triggers first. Here’s a list of blogs and sites that do a better job than I can to explain and illustrate some of these conditions:

Dangerous Gifts #4: Food, Snacks & Dessert

Isn’t this usually the sweetest of treats?! I for one find pleasure in eating, especially when there’s excellent company involved. Gathering over food always makes for some of the best memories, I feel.

Whether it’s a hot kebab at the corner of the street, to shared popcorn at the cinema, to a delicious cocktail at the bar, or fancy fine dining. And yes, desserts are a must!

Who Not to Give Food Items as Gifts To…

Unfortunately, there is a long list of people with various types of chronic illnesses whom food affects for different reasons. They could be living with: IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease), Celiac Disease, FAP (Familial Adenomatous Polyposis), food allergies or sensitivities, Diabetes, Gastroparesis, Antiphospholipid Syndrome, or something else.

Food can be the biggest bane of their lives as eating something incompatible – even a tiny speck – can cause pain. It can send their bodies into a flare up that takes weeks or even months to recover from.

Each of these disorders are complex, with varying symptoms and triggers. I won’t dive into detail for the purpose of this post, but here is a quick overview of some of the more common ones:

5. Physical Books

I first bought a Kindle because my ex-partner couldn’t sleep with the bedside lamp turned on. I had always thought that I was a physical book kind of person, until I owned a Kindle. It is so much easier to read with a Kindle flat against your thighs in bed or placed on a table, especially when your joints are aching.

Aching so much that even the act of holding a book open can be painful. Thick, heavy books can be daunting for me to finish, not because of the number of words, but the size. Thanks to the Kindle, I managed to enjoy and finish one such book recently about ‘Catherine the Great’!

Physical Books are Not Great Gift Ideas For…

Physical books aren’t something that cross most people’s minds when purchasing as gifts. Whilst many people with disabilities love to read, it can be a challenge on some days, either from pain or brain fog.

Physical books can be troublesome in particular for people who live with arthritis, visual impairments, migraine, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy), Multiple Sclerosis and more. This might be due to the weight, muscle pain, dislocated joints, head pains, or something else.

If your friend happens to own a Kindle or digital notepad, it might actually be an even better idea to buy them a gift card. That way they can even select their own books. I know that I’d love such gifts for sure!

Here are some great blogs that share more insight into how reading physical books can trigger pain for them in various ways. They also contain tips on how they still manage to get their reading fix in:

Showing That You Care Through Acts of Service

Whilst gifts are often meant to be pleasant surprises, it can be tricky when it comes to chronic illnesses. Unless you’re familiar with the person and know what sort of gifts they’d love, it might be a good idea to check beforehand.

Besides, this isn’t an exhaustive list of potential problems; it’s barely a glimpse. You don’t have to reveal what your gifts are exactly, but getting a few clues is a good idea.

A trip to the Emergency Department on Christmas (or any other day) would suck big time. Whilst you may not fully comprehend what your loved one’s chronic illnesses are about, showing that you care through the questions you ask can mean a great deal. Often knowing that you bothered to even ask is a heartwarming, bonus gift in itself!

I also wanted to add a little reminder here that gifts don’t always have to be a tangible item that you buy. Many people with chronic illnesses have trouble doing certain tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, or driving. Offering to take them for a drive out to nature, or cooking them a nice meal can mean just as much. Little things like these can go a long way and create wonderful memories.

Supporting Businesses Owned by People with Chronic Illnesses

There is no denying that living with a chronic illness or disability is tough. Many of us aren’t able to work full-time due to chronic pain, and stress is a major trigger for pain flares.

As a result, many people with chronic illnesses try to find work from home, or start small businesses. You can help by supporting businesses run by people with chronic illnesses.

Their insider’s knowledge about living with chronic illness is also a bonus, because these gifts are specially crafted with them in mind. Happy holidays to one and all!

If you liked this article, sign up for our mailing list so you don’t miss out on our latest posts! You will also receive an e-book full of uplifting messages, quotes and illustrations, as a token of appreciation!

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Chronic Illness Gift Guide (What NOT to Give)

Dangerous Gifts for People with Chronic Illnesses (and Gift Ideas to Swap Them With)

Gifts I Love (But are Dangerous for Those with Chronic Illness and What to Give Instead)

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  • Ugh, food gifts are the worst for my husband. Last Christmas his parents gave him a ton of spices, which we didn’t check. After one use, my husband (who has Celiac) was destroyed for two weeks. The spices all said “may contain wheat”. His parents didn’t think to check the ingredients and neither did we. The most miniscule amount of gluten can be so damaging.

    • Oh dear, that must have been so awful!! Yes my parents, even after 20 years, still don’t know what I can and can’t eat sometimes, with my blood clotting disorder. It’s a little upsetting but I try not to get upset either 😉

  • Great tips! I didn’t know some of this.

  • Terrific round up of lists and ideas. I’d say no to all of these except books. Friends who send me books as well as coloring books and markers are the best. The rest are all things I can do without. I don’t need much. I’d rather have someone give me a plant or some flowers to play with. Very thoughtful post, Sheryl!

    • Haha and you do lovely colouring books and so much more, too! Love your ikebana and got to hear you singing live one day!

  • LOVE this list!! So well thought out. I really trigger with perfume bad and I think as my birthday nears, I will remind people of how crappy I feel with it (unless I choose it of course). I really like how you’ve suggested alternatives – ooo actually maybe I won’t remind them, I’ll just send them this post 😀

    • Thanks Shruti. Perfumes seem to be a gigantic trigger for so many disorders although they are also soothing for many people (like me), so it’s such a fine line to walk. Thanks for directing people to this post! 😀

  • I have MCAS and yet always seem to be given perfume, or fragranced items, as well as chocolate or other food I can’t eat. It’s so frustrating! Especially as I have been quite open with the fact that I can’t have them.

    • MCAS really does seem like such a tough disease to deal with 🙁 THere are so many things you can’t do or eat. Yet, also many things you can, as proven by your recipes and blog! I will definitely direct people there if ever they need ideas!

  • I never thought a gift can be a curse for someone but this article made me realize and it is so true. I will definitely be careful whenever I gift things to people.

    • Hi Sagar, yes indeed, if you put it that way haha. Interesting perspective! Thank you so much for being more mindful – that thoughtfulness in itself is a huge gift to others more than you can imagine 🙂

  • WOW, what a great and comprehensive article. Thank you so much for including several of my resources. My heart is full of gratitude. Hugs, Holly

  • You have done your research well. This is such a helpful guide.

  • Such an interesting post, most of these things I always thought were harmless. But you made some great points!

    • Thanks Marisa! Yea we can be really sensitive to so many things ;p Hopefully this just raises a little awareness!

  • that’s such a useful guide, thank you. it can be difficult to decide what to buy when buying a gift for someone who is not well but now I’ve read your words of wisdom, I have much better idea what to get. thank you.

  • This was such an interesting post! Thank you for sharing!!

    cute & little

  • Wow! There is so much I never think of when it comes to gift giving. Thanks for opening up my eyes. I will definitely be extra considerate now since I now am more aware.

  • You’ve got a great list here – I’m sure that most people wouldn’t even consider some of these gifts to be potentially problematic. I love that you mention service, too, as I feel like this is often more valuable than a physical trinket. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Morgan,

      Experiences and services are definitely more valuable than physical gifts a lot of the time! Memories are forever 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

  • Thanks for this list!! So many things to think about.

    • Welcome, Cynthia! Crazy isn’t it, and this isn’t even the tip of it unfortunately, but it’s good to get some awareness out I suppose!

  • This is something I hadn’t considered before, but I’m really glad that you posted this. I think this will be really helpful in the future as I buy gifts for others and will make sure I take these things into consideration.

    • Thanks for reading and for being so considerate, Sarah. We chronic illness folk really appreciate it! 😉

  • Some great tips here, although now I am worried about buying the right gift, so many things to consider

    • Haha don’t worry too much! 🙂 Am sure your friends still appreciate it, this is just to raise some awareness in general!

  • Thank you for bringing awareness to this! I think so many people don’t even think of how a gift that is perfectly fine for them can be dangerous to others.

    • Exactly, Erin! Often it is not out of ill intention, but just plain not knowing. So I thought it might be a good idea to raise a wee bit of awareness 🙂

  • This is such an insightful and well written post!! I had zero idea about the consequences of some gifts. I’ll do more research into it in the future.

    • Thank you so much! This barely touches the tip, but I hope it’s a start! Thanks for doing research, we appreciate it 🙂

  • This post provided so much information and make me rethink about buying gifts. I believe it would be best to give gift cards if we do not really know the person we are giving the gift to.

    • Hi Annemarie, you are so right! Gift cards may seem ‘boring’, but are really fantastic for people whom you know nothing about! And it’s always usable!

  • Choosing gifts can sometimes be hard especially since you need to consider a lot of things before you give it to the person. It’s great and thoughtful of you to compile and write this down. Those are some great and definitely useful tips to remember.

    • Thanks Lyanna. I hope it’s a useful resource and guide for consideration, when buying gifts for any season or occasion!

  • A very powerful post. Thank you for researching and putting extra links to explore. I love it!
    Obviously, we need to be thoughtful of gift gifting. It is a thoughtful process, rather than just scratching a name off the gift list.

    • Thank you, glad you found it interesting to explore. And exactly, gift giving should be thoughtful in the first place, you are so right 🙂

  • This is such a creative way to share this. Thanks for sharing these ideas.

  • Thanks for sharing pros and cons about these gift ideas. Gifts are really something to think thoroughly too.

    • Yes, spending a little time to be thoughtful about the person you are gifting might be worth more than the gift itself at times!

  • Very thoughtful list! You are doing great posting it.
    What do you think is the most ‘safe’ option for a gift?

    • Hi Lyosha, I don’t think there’s a safest option, because we are all such unique individuals! Though gift cards and cash (nice wrapped) are always a good idea!

  • This is such a great post very informative, such a perfect reference for buying gifts.

  • This is such an informative post. There are so many things you wrote about that people don’t think about right away. Thank you for all of the information!

    • Yes because often it doesn’t affect us in the slightest bit, so it naturally wouldn’t even cross our minds! But there’s no harm being a little more thoughtful, too!

  • Gift giving can be so hard even more so for those who have chronic illness! I had no idea that what I was giving could cause problems for them! I’ll have to rethink!

  • Everything you shared is so true! Acts of service, Amazon gift cards and other gift cards are good choices. It’s so good to be mindful of others and what they are going through.

    • Yes those are nice gifts for healthy people, too! Sometimes generic is okay, and quality time is never a bad idea 🙂

  • This is such a great reminder for those who can’t accept these things as gifts. Books are always a great idea!

  • These are great ideas and tips for gifts. However, I prefer to gift cash because I am not good at buying gifts for others.

    • Hehe…us Chinese people give cash all the time. We do it especially during Chinese New Year, where you put them into cute little red packets!

  • Very interesting! I never thought about these things, but you are SO right! We often resort to lotions or perfumes because it seems like an easy go-to.

    • Don’t get me wrong, I personally LOVE perfumes and lotions! But some people might hate them, or be unable to use them 🙂

  • OMG! Good to know. It never occurred to me that some of these would be dangerous. I definitely will be editing my gift list

  • I found this post very informative. This is a lovely guide for gift ideas for persons with Chronic Illness. I will make sure to share this post.

  • This is sooo useful. This Christmas, make it more about the other people when giving gifts, sensible ones that can give the recipient a smile, not sickness, when they open the gift.

  • There seems to be so many allergies and intolerances in people these days. What a helpful post to understand who might be at risk and what to give instead. I know I have to be careful with perfumed creams as they can trigger a skin reaction on me.

    • Thanks Fiona! Allergies sure are on the rise with all our city living and processed foods, I guess! But many of these autoimmune disorders are genetic as well. Let’s make it a great Christmas for all! 🙂

  • Nice post! I love every tips and advices that you’ve mentioned here and it’s also serves us as a reminder that we need to be careful on buying or giving a gift for our loved ones or other persons.

    • Thanks Catherine! Yes we are all different individuals, so it can be easy to forget what we like may actually be harmful to someone else!

  • you have given me trully some food for thought here , i think sometemies we just do not think what we buy

    • Yes, often we buy more for convenience, or based on what we like. Am sure our friends are still grateful, but when one has a chronic illness, the gift can actually be harmful, so just keep an eye out! 😉

  • This really made me think. It’s so easy to just give something without thinking about whether it is the right thing for that person. Now I will think more about allergies etc when choosing gifts.

    • Thanks so much Angela, your words warm my heart. Am sure your loved ones will appreciate your thoughtfulness so much!

  • I Love this I have smell allergy for strong perfumes and high chemical beauty products like beauty soaps so it’s important to know the person condition before buying their gifts great post!

    • Thanks Maysz, and like you said, perfumes and strong scents really seem to be a huge trigger for lots of people, regardless of health status! Something even I am surprised about 🙂

  • Oh wow! This is really good to know. I’ve never thought about how some of these might be dangerous to someone else. I have given perfume and lotions so many times as gifts. =/

    • Hi Stacie, yes, especially if your friend or family member is chronically ill! Though from all the comments I’ve received so far, seems like lots of healthy people are sensitive to perfumes as well! I do love my perfumes, though 😉

  • Hello Cheryl,

    I very much resonate with this post because my nose is huge on scents. I can smell things from a mile away, lol. I am sensitive to most scents and for a long time, I went away from wearing cologne. Very informative and thank you for sharing as always.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Nate. Yes even knowing how much it affects those with chronic illness, I was surprised to discover just how many healthy people are also affected by scents. You’re most welcome!

  • This is wonderful advice! While I don’t have MCAD or MCAS, I can’t wear traditional perfume since it triggers migraines and allergies.

    • Thanks HilLesha, I hope it was a helpful guide! Yea perfume actually does contains hundreds of chemicals in it!

  • This was quite an interesting read, I never thought about how people can have issues using perfumes or hand creams for example. Those are some items that I often buy as gifts. I will be more aware from now on.

    • Thanks so much Joanna, that was my intention with this article – to raise general awareness on such issues, especially if your loved one is suffering from chronic pain or illness. Thanks so much for being aware 🙂

  • Your blog post has filled me with joy and emotion, this should be the true spirit of Christmas.

    • Thanks Cristina, Christmas is indeed all about giving and receiving freely (and the right stuff! 😉 )

    • I so love your list and I truly appreciate how you distinguish your likes as well as the not so famous or preferred gifts for others. I guess, it would easier to give something if we know his hobbies and fave color, for instance. It helps, too, that we are observant and keen.

  • I’ve seen many chronic illness gift guides but yours is different and I love that! I’m sure it’s helpful for many people who know someone with any of these illnesses. As a business owner myself I love that you mentioned to buy from spoonies. x

    • Thanks so much, Kirsten! Yea I thought it important to mention. Having read so many blogs over the past four years, I didn’t even know that many of the things I use or do as a person with chronic illnesses myself are dangerous for others! Chronic illnesses are really varied and infinite.

  • This is literally a much needed post. Thank you! Perfume is my thing, but I’d never give perfumes or scented things to people, because I’m hyper-aware people can’t tolerate them. I don’t even wear it much, because I’d rather not make my husband sneeze.

    We’ve started to give experience gifts like zoo memberships, magazine subs, online courses, and movie trips. Even to friends, just to spend time to together. Because if you give people stuff they can enjoy, it’s not a gift.

    • Thanks Lorna! Perfume is also my thing – one of the biggest perhaps! – but yes like you said, many people are intolerant or sensitive to them, too. Experience gifts sound like such a great idea, I might just steal those ideas for myself! 😉

  • Great post. I don’t have a Chronic Illness but scents give me headaches. Plus so many places now (work for me) are scent free. There are so many charities now we can give to in people’s name local and international.

    • Thanks as always for your support, dear Amelia! Scents can indeed be triggering for many. Am glad that many places are more aware!

  • Wow, this is an amazingly detailed and informative post. Honestly, I never imagined a physical book could be a problem for those suffering with a chronic illness. I think it’s a very good idea to support small businesses run by chronically ill folks. Not only would they be knowledgeable and help you select appropriate gifts, I think it’s also important to support small biz over large corporations wherever possible.

    • Hello, so true! Small businesses are generally better with customer service, and real love and care go into their products. And yes, books are actually pretty painful especially if you’ve dislocated a joint or have muscle atrophy or issues!

  • What a brilliant post! There is so much information in here.

    I’d honestly never thought about any of these things before, you’ve really opened my eyes x

  • This is such a great post. There are so many posts at this time of year about what gifts you could buy for people, therefore I am glad that you have covered why not to buy certain gifts for some people. I have trigeminal neuralgia, and perfume smells can also set that off. I remember sitting in the dentist’s waiting room one day and a bottle of perfume in the form of a woman sat next to me. Before I got to the dentist’s chair, my face was throbbing.

    • I had no idea that scents could even trigger TN! Do you have a blog post describing such an incident that I could include? I am sorry to hear about the pain you have to go through.

  • Great article!!! Thanks for putting all of this together!!!

    @dSavannahCreate from dSavannahRambles

  • Fantastically well researched and put together. I have migraine but love reading so always a case of one man’s ceiling and I’m always amazed at how the same condition manifests itself differently in different people, and over time

    • Thanks Naomi! Yes it’s amazing how infinite the list of problems can be with every individual with chronic illness, huh. Even as one myself, I barely am aware of what can harm others, and vice versa!

  • Thanks for the mention, dear Sheryl! Love the ideas. I agree, plz don’t ever try to give me an edible item or something that smells. Unless it’s labeled GF (both food and beauty products!) or I already use and love, it’s going straight in the bin. I’ve got no issues with doing that. Well, I don’t like waste so just don’t give me anything I’d have to throw out. Now if you buy me something I use all the time (cream, make-up, whatever) that’s kinda costly, I will %100 appreciate that 🙂

    • Hi Sarah, my pleasure! And yea, me too, heh. I throw out quite a bit of stuff, unfortunately. Such a waste, really 🙁

  • Hi Sheryl – What a great resource for gift-giving and education for those with chronic illness. PINNED! Thank you for including several of my articles. My heart is full of gratitude. Hugs, Holly

  • Great post with some really useful ideas and tips. Thank you for the mention!

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