Pediatric cancer patients face a range of physical, emotional, and social challenges. Physically, the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation can be debilitating and painful, leading to exhaustion and fatigue, nausea, hair loss, and other unpleasant symptoms. Emotionally, patients often experience fear, isolation, and depression. Socially, pediatric cancer patients may find it difficult to relate to their peers who do not understand what they are going through. These issues often leave patients feeling alone and overwhelmed.
And because chemotherapy sessions are frequently scheduled around the hospital’s availability (not the patient’s), many children are forced to attend late-night sessions.
In 2008, former Hopkinton resident Tammy Catherwood created the Amanda Styles Cirelli Foundation (ASCF) in honor of her sister, Mandy, who passed away from a rare and aggressive form of cancer. The mission of ASCF is to put a “A Smile on a Child’s Face”, and one of their most successful programs are the Smile Bags. They’re made for children 4 and up, and filled with toys, books, and crafts, all delivered to pediatric cancer hospitals.
Hopkinton Senior Katie Cooper learned of this program in 2020 and saw an opportunity to help. She contacted several hospitals and was told they weren’t accepting donations due to COVID, but that they would welcome a donation after the pandemic. Cooper worked her network, using email and social media to collect donations of fidget spinners, coloring books, markers, Rubiks Cube’s, Play-Doh, Starbucks cards, books, and more, raising $1,500 in total. Katie was able to build 50 Smile Bags, which she later delivered to Dana Farber, Boston Children’s, and UMass Memorial for pediatric cancer patients.
But she didn’t stop there.
During the drop-off Cooper met with the Child Life Specialist at UMass Memorial, and asked if there was anything else they needed. The Specialist responded that they were in desperate need of toothbrushes and toothpaste for parents and kids who come in for their late night treatments. Many are not prepared for the long stay, she was told.
“Oftentimes the kids come in for their treatment, and they don’t have anything to help them feel normal. Basic things like brushing your teeth are often the last thought,” said Cooper.
Inspired, Katie went back to work. After many calls and emails, she reached Dr. Rich Miller and Dr. Elizabeth Blake, who combined to deliver more than 700 packs of toothbrushes, toothpaste, and dental floss to Katie’s house. She diligently packed as many as she could and donated the remainder to Project Just Because.
In all, Katie was able to deliver 150 kits to UMass Memorial.
“I really enjoy giving back and making people feel good,” said Cooper. “ASCF is a wonderful organization and I am proud to be an ambassador for it.”
“And we’re always looking for volunteers,” she emphasized with a smile.