Ruth Beach remembers how it felt when her doctor told her the dreaded news, “You have cancer.” She said it was overwhelming because she was suddenly flooded with medical information about her options in treating her cancer. But something was missing. She felt unprepared for the many physical and emotional challenges ahead of her. After her two-year battle with breast cancer, and overcoming it, she decided to help others with ways to cope with the news of having cancer, creating Handles of Hope.
Beach wanted to put together a free bag with vital resources, information, coping tools, and comfort aids to help patients through their cancer journey. Beach shared her idea with Jann Totzke, Executive Director of Oncology at Lakeland HealthCare’s Marie Yeager Cancer Center. Totzke liked the idea. “Handles of Hope supports our patients from a psycho-social perspective,” stated Totzke. Each year, Lakeland cares for nearly 800 new cancer patients.
A Member Service Advisor at United Federal Credit Union (UFCU), Beach approached the UFCU Charity Committee about donating money to purchase the supplies to put the support bags together. The committee unanimously said yes to the cause and donated $4,000 to get the program started.
Beach created a list of the things that helped her when she was going through treatment, which became the contents of Handles of Hope. The bags include:
Journal Book, to help release bottled-up feelings and emotions in a productive way, plus a pen to write their story.
Local and National Resource Information, a packet with lists of local and national organizations, some that offer 24-hour support through one-on-one peer telephone counselors, providing a good support system.
Meditation CD, Piano Relaxation CD, and Herbal Tea with Mug, these can help with calming one down and allowing the patient to sleep, which can be very difficult at times.
There is No Place Like Hope, a book which addresses the emotions and experiences of cancer with honesty and humor.
Eating Well through Cancer, a cookbook providing the patient with tasty recipes, healthy cooking tips, and specific foods that can help with side effects. The book also allows family and friends to help pre-cook healthy meals in preparation for chemotherapy treatments.
The bags also include a feedback comment card to find out how helpful the items were for the patients, and a chance to suggest ideas on items they would like to see in the bags. “Patients may not need all of the items on their cancer journey, and sometimes their needs change as they progress through treatment, so we want their input on the bags,” said Totzke.
Lakeland HealthCare offers cancer patients the services of Oncology Navigators. The navigators are specialized registered nurses who link newly diagnosed cancer patients with the resources they need throughout treatment and beyond into survivorship. The Oncology Navigators assemble the resource packets in the Handles of Hope bags and distribute the bags through the diagnosing physicians and oncologists.
Many volunteers helped to assemble the bags. This included the Rainbows of Hope support group, the Chemosabies breast cancer support group, the Oncology Navigators, and cancer survivors who wanted to help others.
“On behalf of Lakeland, we are so grateful to Ruth, United Federal Credit Union, and the many cancer survivors and volunteers who are making this special project possible,” said Totzke.
For more information or ways to help the mission of Handles of Hope, please contact Karen Dye at the Lakeland Health Foundation at (269) 927-5143 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo caption: Nurse Navigator Shelley Wilkinson, UFCU Member Service Advisor Ruth Beach, and Nurse Navigator Catherine Clarey-Sanford