When I found out I had stage four ovarian cancer I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know anyone who had late-stage cancer and survived. I felt like the doctor was speaking another language – so many terms I was unfamiliar with. I knew I was sick and in pain, but I didn’t know that my oncologist thought I only had two or maybe three months to live. The good news is – that was eight years ago! It has not been easy, and I have had four recurrences, but God has blessed me and I am alive and well!
One thing that was really encouraging to me was a box I received in the mail from family in another state. I opened it, and there were a dozen wrapped gifts inside, and instructions to open one a day. It gave me something to look forward to each morning, and it made me feel very loved. When I started to feel better, I knew I wanted to pay it forward. I started a nonprofit organization called Fighting Cancer, Inc., and started delivering Sunshine Boxes to patients on their first day of chemo. I didn’t know how long I’d be able to do it, financially, but I figured we’d deliver as many as we could. But the first day I delivered a box I came home and there was a 60-pound box on my porch full of enough gifts to put together 10 more Sunshine Boxes! From that date to now, we haven’t missed a single patient that we know of, and we have delivered over 1,300 Sunshine Boxes. We include 15 individually-wrapped gifts with instructions to open one a day, and when I or one of my volunteers deliver them we tell them my story with the hope they will find it encouraging.
Another fun thing we do is Project Elf. I had my first chemo December 19th, and I remember sitting there thinking how unfair it felt that the rest of the world was celebrating and my world had just blown up. I felt extremely isolated by my circumstances, and very lonely. Project Elf was created to help chemo patients know that they are not alone or forgotten! We deliver a wrapped gift to EVERY patient getting chemo the week before Christmas. It is so much fun seeing their faces brighten and feeling the joy that fills the room as everyone opens their gifts.
I was very blessed to have been invited to attend several different cancer retreats over the years, and came away from each one with another tool in my toolbox to help me cope with cancer, as well as lifelong friends.
Fighting Cancer, Inc. prayerfully considered hosting a survivors’ retreat that was faith-based. God has been so good to me and I have found so much encouragement through reading Bible passages, and I wanted to offer a retreat for those of like mind. We have done three retreats so far and plan to continue to do one every fall, and perhaps add a spring retreat in the future. My passion is telling people that there is true hope through God.
I never would have thought, that first day, that there would actually be good things to come from having cancer, but there definitely have been! I think the best thing is the amazing women I have met at events and support groups, many of whom have become the best of friends.
If you would like more information on the Sunshine Box Project™, Project Elf, or our retreats, please visit our website at www.FightingCancerInc.org.