Hope in a Bag

In 2010 when I started interviewing families to write my book, What Makes Them Amazing: Inspiring Stories of Young Adults Fighting Cancer, I didn’t know that it would also initiate positive and comforting services for our families at The Melodies Center.

I still remember interviewing Nick Bowen and his mom, Carol. At age 11, Nick was rushed to the hospital after he passed out in the tub. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor and stayed in the hospital for weeks. Carol said, “All I brought with me was my pocketbook and my Bible.”

We don’t plan to be told that our child has cancer and not be able to go home. That was how the Nick’s Fight to be Healed Family Hope Bags developed. We thought, What would a family need for an emergency overnight stay at the hospital? Ideas for what this bag would contain came from an amazing warrior, Luke Romano. Luke dealt with cancer for seven years, so was an expert on preparing for hospital stays and what a family needs. Usually one parent has to stay with their child, so the Family Hope Bags are geared to support both. The “Red Bag” is delivered by the child life specialist or social worker when a child is diagnosed and inpatient.

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There are essentials like shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, hand sanitizer, hair brushes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, hair ties, laundry detergent, and chapstick.

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Being in a hospital and facing cancer is devastating, so we focus on making others comfortable. Having cozy socks, eye pads to block out the light, headphones to listen to music, a journal to write your thoughts and keep track of doctor notes are all included.

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Hope and the connection is brought about by including a letter from a local family who has gone through what this family is now going through. We know how scared our families are and to have hope given by someone who have been there is priceless. This year we also had kids from Niskayuna Elementary School writes cards of comfort that are placed in every bag. They are thoughtful and compassionate notes.

Family Hope Bags are our most time consuming project, but it is also the most worthwhile. Besides the wonderful staff at The Melodies Center, these bags are the first line of comfort to get a family emotionally, financially, and physically through cancer treatment.

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Everyone calls them the “Red Bag.” Surrounding this black front with white logos is a red duffle bag that families can carry back and forth to the hospital. Our wonderful sponsors donate gift cards to Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, the cafe at the hospital, Panera, and the Recovery Sports Grill provides gift certificates to their restaurant. We couldn’t do this without them.

Annually, the Southern Saratoga YMCA has a drive to collect essential items and it makes a huge difference.

In addition to these initial gift cards, Nick’s Fight to be Healed provides gift cards each month for ongoing treatment that Angie, the clinic child life specialist, and Courtney, the social worker, hands out to families. Reducing stress is key to healing.

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Emily Hayes, President of Nick’s Round Table, packs bags with all the supplies donated by our local sponsors, Nick’s Fight to be Healed, and Luke’s Legacy.
It takes hours of shopping, separating, copying, folding and packing these bags before they can be brought down to Albany Med. Between 70-90 bags are given to families each year.  That means up to 90 children are newly diagnosed with cancer each year just in our area. We have a lot of work to support our families and we do the best we can.

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Amanda Hayes, Technology Chair for Nick’s Round Table, is at the other end of the assembly line.
Teens from Nick’s Round Table, along with their amazing leader, Annette Romano, shop and pack all these bags. It’s a daunting task, but they do it with joy on their faces, because they know how much these bags mean to families.

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Dylan Nezaj, Vice-President of Nick’s Round Table, lends a much needed hand in organizing the Family Hope Bags.
It takes more than medicine to heal a child. It takes love, in-hospital services, comfort, and hope. Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation does this and needs your help to continue.

If you would like to donate gift cards from Target or Walmart to purchase supplies for these bags or gift cards in $25 increments to Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Panera, or CVS, please mail them to:

NFTBHF, Family Hope Bag Program, PO Box 217, Rexford, NY 12148

If your company would like to sponsor this program, please contact Annette Romano at aromano12@nycap.rr.com

Thank you to our volunteers, our sponsors, and everyone who helps us in our mission.

Never Giving Up Who She Is –Kacey

kaceyfinalI met Kacey when she was in rehab in Albany Medical Center. She had been in the hospital for months, and because of the intense chemotherapy she needed to be healed, she lost the use of her legs.

I did mention that Kacey is a dancer, right? Cancer never lets an opportunity go by to steal away a person’s identity. It has a tendency to take away what that person loves the most. It strips you down to your bare soul, and hopes that you never get back up. If cancer was a criminal, it would be serving endless life sentences for what it has done to our children.

Identity.

Kacey’s idea of who she was, what she wanted to be, how she would play out her senior year was all changed when she was diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly this wonderful, young woman had to not only learn to walk again, but before she could do that, she had to be able to sit up and stand. It took months and months of hard work and determination. Being a dancer, Kacey is used to hard work and grueling hours, but this type of training tested every belief and bit of confidence she had in herself.

The hardest part about her journey was that she wasn’t home. When Nick’s Fight found out that Kacey couldn’t go home until she had a wheelchair ramp, we went into motion. We rented one with the support of The Catie Hoch Foundation and Maddie’s Mark Foundation. The ramp was ready, but Kacey still wasn’t healthy enough, but she kept working on being able to stand.

When we realized that she would need the ramp for a longer period of time, we purchased the material and her family and friends built the ramp. Finally Kacey was home. What a beautiful sight!

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Kacey sets her sights on goals, and she doesn’t let anything get in her way. I have learned that this is who she is. She wanted to walk across the stage at her graduation. Guess what, she did.

She didn’t have to redefine who she was. Kacey already knows that she is a determined, hard-working, and generous person. Kacey just found other ways to express who she is. Now Kacey is driving, walking, and volunteers for Nick’s Round Table. She has shown us that giving up just isn’t an option. If you want something bad enough, have a great support system, and stay positive, you can do anything.