As we near the end of October, we also mark the completion of Breast Cancer Awareness Month—but that doesn't mean you should limit your own awareness and support of breast cancer-related causes to just one month a year!
Cancer touches nearly all of us: women in the U.S. have about a 1 in 8 chance of getting breast cancer over the course of their lives, according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and in 2018 there were more than 2 million new cases of breast cancer diagnosed worldwide. Chances are, you know someone who is a cancer survivor or who is fighting cancer right now—even during the coronavirus.
We've collected two incredible stories from cancer survivors who are at the helm of subscription boxes for cancer patients or their loved ones. Though a gift box won't change the need for chemo, it might make the process less uncomfortable. And though caregivers will still likely find themselves exhausted, a monthly subscription box with gifts aimed to help people going through cancer treatment can improve overall wellness for everyone walking through a battle with cancer.
Hope matters—for a cancer patient and for their loved ones. Susan Hutchinson, founder of the Hanging on Hope subscription box, knows this firsthand. A stage-four ovarian cancer survivor of 11 years, Hutchinson says she knows "firsthand the emotional, physical, and spiritual struggles we face with an unknown future." After going through chemo and clinical trials, and speaking to women's groups over the past eight years, Hutchinson found a way to reach even more women: with a subscription box. "I realized that women look at me with hope because I survived against odds, and wanted to help deliver hope to them, one box at a time every month to help motivate them to look forward, not behind, with regret. Hope is a tangible thing."
Her gift box, which is faith-based, not only encourages women to place their faith in God, but also offers practical body treatments, ways to engage their mind and use their time wisely, and "ideas for making memories that will last and also fun lifestyle items that women love and will make them smile." For Hutchinson, success is "helping as many women as possible to see that although we are not promised tomorrow, we all have today, and we need to make every effort to make today count." She adds that success would also mean donating thousands of dollars from proceeds to ovarian cancer research "to help wipe out this sneaky, insidious killer." Think of Hanging on Hope as a care package full of the comfort items the cancer patient in your life might need most.
The themes for Hanging on Hope's subscription boxes come from Hutchinson's own experience of her emotions, the time of year, or suggestions from friends and customers. Each month covers three areas: mind, body, and spirit. The cancer experience is one that touches every part of the human existence, so Hanging on Hope aims to do the same. As a mother to three children and 11 grandchildren, Hutchinson understands the importance of family—and, she says, "the grief that comes with thinking about leaving behind unfinished business and loved ones." Hutchinson adds, "I know about hope. I've had to work at it like everyone else, but I know it makes a huge difference in life. I care about women and their stories. My faith is deep. I love life and enjoy being active. My desire is to make a positive difference in someone else's struggle."
The Balm Box founder Liz Benditt likes to think of herself "as a medical miracle," having survived four cancers over eight years. In 2009, she survived melanoma skin cancer. In 2010, she survived thyroid cancer. In 2015, she survived basal cell skin cancer. And in 2017, she survived breast cancer. Though the melanoma was by far her most potentially lethal cancer, she says, her breast cancer experience and treatment "were the absolute worst."
She explains the two main struggles she endured, which became the two points of inspiration for The Balm Box. First, she found it basically impossible to predict what she might need during and after her radiation treatment. "It was incredibly difficult to predict what tools I would need to go through and recover from radiation until I was in the middle of it, scrambling for bra alternatives, aluminum-free deodorant, and burn salves," Liz explains, adding that a nurse even made her a mini-pillow to hold between her seatbelt and breast so that the belt wouldn't chafe. There was no central resource online or otherwise known for what she needed, and she found herself up late at night, on page 20 of a Google or Amazon search, looking for solutions. "Most of the cancer treatments and gifts online were pink-ribboned, cute or sassy T-shirts and mugs," she says. "I wanted relief, not stuff."
The second challenge for Liz in her cancer experience were the well-meaning intentions of friends and neighbors who wanted to help: that help largely came in the form of cooking, and Benditt's husband and son are picky eaters who would've preferred takeout. Liz herself, usually a half-marathon runner, wasn't able to be active, and would've preferred lighter fare. "Balm Box was designed to meet the needs of two markets," she explains: "Both cancer patients looking for relief from treatment side effects, and cancer gift buyers, wanting to support friends and family with cancer with functional gifts that will genuinely help and heal."
The first series of The Balm Box addresses radiation care through a short-term three-box subscription to support those undergoing radiation treatment. "We look forward to bringing new treatment boxes forward as we learn and grow," Liz says. A strategic marketing and communications professional turned self-described cancer-preneur (cancer survivor + entrepreneur), as well as a college professor, it's important to Liz that The Balm Box is connecting functionality with gift-giving and self-care for cancer patients. The boxes all feature products recommended by cancer patients for cancer patients, and The Balm Box bases its offerings on Liz's personal experience as well as research, with more than 500 cancer survivors and gift buyers.