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‘Heart Love Bags’ provide comfort for cancer patients
EVERETT — Ever since she completed her own cancer treatment, Marysville resident Tracy Anderson has wanted to give fellow cancer patients a physical token of support, and on Nov. 7, she and 13 other volunteers teamed up to make her dream a reality.
“I have always wanted to create a basket or bag full of hope and encouragement for patients who are just beginning their cancer treatment,” said Anderson, a volunteer at the Providence Regional Cancer Partnership in Everett. “These bags would be created by survivors and would contain notes of encouragement along with items that we found helpful during our treatment.”
The volunteers who helped Anderson assemble the “Heart Love Bags,” Nov. 7 at the Providence Regional Cancer Partnership, consisted of fellow cancer survivors, caregivers for cancer patients who had passed away, and members of the American Cancer Society. Anderson’s efforts have benefitted greatly from the Internet. She used Google to search for the items that she wanted to include in the bags, and then sent e-mails to various groups asking if they’d be willing to donate those items.
“The response has been overwhelming,” Anderson said. “We now have enough items to create the first 200 bags. I also have several dedicated ladies knitting and sewing hats to go in the bags, and lap blankets for the patients. The Providence Regional Cancer Partnership loves the project, and is going to allow me to distribute the bags to all newly diagnosed chemo and radiation patients beginning on Nov. 10.”
Anderson explained the value of each item included in the “Heart Love Bags,” starting with the “Livestrong” bracelets, which allow cancer patients and their loved ones to show their support for others who are undergoing, or have gone through, cancer treatment.
To relieve the dry mouth and mouth sores caused by chemo, the bags contain no-alcohol Biotene mouth care products and Chamomile tea. To calm queasy stomachs, the bags also contain ginger candy and anti-nausea lollipops and candy. Women’s knitted hats and men’s baseball caps are included to keep chemo patients’ heads warm, while lip balm soothes the dry lips that are also a symptom of chemo. Energy bars and organic chocolate provide quick boosts, while journals allow patients to keep track of their experiences. Anti-bacterial lotion helps patients stay strong by avoiding germs, and paperback books give them something to occupy their idle hours. A greeting card, designed by a Lake Stevens senior citizens card class, and an inspirational DVD, compiled from photos contributed by cancer survivors, are included to lift patients’ spirits. The bag itself is reusable.
Arlington resident Annie Hartline was one of the volunteers helping to assemble “Heart Love Bags” Nov. 7, but don’t call her a “cancer survivor.” After being diagnosed and treated for cancer three times, Hartline now considers herself a “cancer warrior.”
“The third time I was diagnosed was Oct. 22 of last year,” said Hartline, who was throwing herself into her work with vigor. “I was told I would be dead within two to three months, but I’m obviously still here.”
Hartline attributes her enduring longevity to a number of factors, including “good oncology, clinical trails and chemo,” but she also gives a great deal of credit to the powers of prayer and perspective.
“I’ve had a lot of people praying for me,” said Hartline, who’s done volunteer work on behalf of more than 900 other cancer patients. “My perspective is, it’s not about living or dying, it’s about what I do with the time I’ve got left.”
One thing that Hartline has done consistently during her cancer treatment is beat the odds. The active, enthusiastic 58-year-old sports a full head of salt-and-pepper hair, after being told that the chemo she’d already undergone would render her permanently bald. She’s likewise held onto her fingernails, albeit after they were literally hanging by threads of flesh at one point, in spite of warnings that chemo would cause them to grow fungal and drop off.
“It’s medically impossible,” Hartline said. “They can’t explain how my white blood cell count is still high enough to undergo chemo. It shifts your perspective. You realize that things like hair and nails aren’t as important as you thought, because the essence of who you are is still the same.”
Hartline measures her life now, not in its length, but in its quality, and because “I’ve had a good quality of life,” she’s happy to help other cancer patients do the same, through efforts such as the “Heart Love Bags.”
Anderson is grateful for her volunteers and donors, but she expects that the 200 “Heart Love Bags” will only last through the end of the year, which is why she’s staging a “Holiday Shopping With a Cause” fundraiser, Dec. 7 from 1-4 p.m. at Lake Stevens Books, on 404 91st Ave. NE in Lake Stevens.
To learn more about “Heart Love Bags,” you may log onto their Web site at www.heartlovebags.org.