We are so proud of our newest Chemo Buddies!
Photographs by MOLLY BARTELS / COURIER & PRESS
West Terrace Elementary fifth graders Jack Montgomery, 10, left, Mason Culver, 12, center, and Dylan Early, 11, right, have fun Tuesday while creating goody bags, bookmarks and letters for patients starting chemotherapy. The school worked with the organization My Chemo Buddies on the community service project.
West Terrace students make goody bags to cheer cancer patients
For chemo patients, it’s like getting a hug
- By Megan Erbacher
- Posted November 20, 2012 at 8:24 p.m., updated November 21, 2012 at 12:50 a.m.
EVANSVILLE — Receiving a goody bag during the first day of chemotherapy is like getting a hug, My Chemo Buddies co-founder Jill Kincaid explained to 105 fifth graders at West Terrace Elementary School on Tuesday morning. Kincaid said it’s not a physical hug, but an emotional hug.
Students in the school’s four fifth-grade classes were decorating white paper bags with markers and stickers, a card and make a beaded bookmark for patients at Newburgh’s Oncology Hematology Associates of Southwestern Indiana.
It was the first time a school had contacted Kincaid, 49, to donate to My Chemo Buddies, an organization she and her sister, Karen Williams, launched in February.
A few years ago, Williams was diagnosed with breast cancer, and Kincaid immediately became her “chemo buddy” being present at every doctor’s appointment, chemotherapy treatment and radiation. While there, the sisters quickly noticed the high number of people that came alone.
“And that really bothered us,” Kincaid said. “So not only was I Karen’s buddy, I started to be everyone else’s buddy as well … we got other volunteers, and we would be their hands and feet — get them drinks, pillows, blankets — because they’re there sometimes eight hours a day.”
Kincaid explained to the students many people are terrified the first day of chemotherapy because they aren’t sure what will happen, but getting a surprise goody bag filled with items like pocket facial tissues, hand sanitizer, lotion, a journal and game books, patients spirits are instantly lifted and transported away from angst.
“What you’re doing today is giving these patients, who are in a very tough time in life, a hug,” she said. “And you’re making it better. Even though you’re not necessarily going to meet these people, when you leave today you’ll know you’ve done a fantastic thing and made a significant difference in the lives of these people.”
Echoes of “Dot, dot, dot — not a lot” and “Line, line, line — make it fine,” rang out in the cafeteria to remind the fifth graders not to use too much glue on their project. Shelley DeWeese, West Terrace teacher, advised the students to begin with the end in mind — before starting, have a plan.
West Terrace is a “Leader in Me” school. DeWeese explained focus is put on how students can be leaders with friends, family, at school and branching out into the community is just taking it a step further, something they were ready for, DeWeese said.
“These kids stand so much taller and prouder because they are truly believing that they are leaders,” she said. “It’s a really neat thing to see.”
Kincaid warned students not to use certain words or phrases such as “get well soon.”
“Some of these people are going to be sick for a long time, and it’s going to be a journey … they may not be getting well soon, they may be in this for the long haul,” she explained.
Phrases that were OK to use included “hang in there,” “have a sunny day” or anything positive and uplifting.
Lots of bright colors, a rainbow and butterfly completed Faith Danks’ paper bag. Danks, 11, also wrote “Have a good day” and “Smile.”
The majority of the students have been touched, in some way or another, by someone who has had cancer, DeWeese said.
“Cancer is not an illness that hits just a few,” she said. “This touches almost everyone.”
Danks’ mother, Megan Danks, 34, spoke to the group about her experience with chemotherapy in March 2011 and described the difference between chemotherapy and radiation. After the breast cancer diagnosis, she had five months of chemotherapy, then surgery to remove a lump and 26 lymph nodes that were all cancer-free.
Megan Danks was excited and thought it was fun the students saw her with a bald head last year and now with hair grown back almost to her shoulders.
“For me, one of the hardest things when I would go to get treatment was seeing people sitting by themselves,” she said.
Despite the “somewhat scary” experience, Danks thought it was neat her two young daughters were able to see her go through it and come out strong.
“I thought it was really good for them to see me lose my beauty to a certain extent,” she said.
“My mom had my grandma go with her, so it’s nice that other people will have someone to come with them to make them feel better,” Faith Danks said about My Chemo Buddies.
“Have a nice day” and “We’re thinking of you” were neatly written across Abby Walling’s bag.
“I think they would like it to know that kids in their community are thinking of them while they’re going through something difficult,” Walling, 11, said.
With 50 volunteers, My Chemo Buddies serves about 50 patients a day at the Newburgh facility. And with requests from out-of-state residents looking for the service in their area, Kincaid has a dream of being able to spread My Chemo Buddies to multiple hospitals.
Kincaid’s sister died in July of Triple Hit Breast Cancer, but the organization the sisters created lives on.
“This is my tribute to her,” Kincaid said. “When she was going through the worst time in her life, she was thinking about other people.”