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Cancer survivor paying forward to those in treatment

BROOKLINE – In a world where things can seem a little dismal, Brookline resident Lauren Caulfield is working to bring a sense of peace to those experiencing hard times.

On Nov. 16, Caulfield will be hosting her second chemo care packaging event to benefit cancer patients in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Caulfield and 185 volunteers will gather at Richard Maghakian Memorial School in Brookline at 10 a.m.

Caulfield is no stranger to chemotherapy. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2017 and completed 12 months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation.

During her chemotherapy treatments, Caulfield would often run into cancer patients who were either going to chemotherapy alone, skipping sessions because they didn’t have transportation or couldn’t afford it.

When she walked out of her treatment center for the last time, she told her husband something had to be done for these people.

“At first, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” Caulfield said.

Then, one day on Facebook a few weeks later, she came across PINK Revolution’s chemo craft kit event in Massachusetts, which she attended.

Inspired by the event, Caulfield decided to bring the program to New Hampshire. She appointed two friends as her co-chairs, and from there, they hit the ground running.

Last year, Caulfield and her team of volunteers collected 14,000 products, assembled 1,000 chemo care packages, collected 300 radiation creams for radiation patients and provided $2,500 worth of gas gift cards.

Caulfield distributed the chemo care packages to 23 oncology units across New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

“It was the best event. We had stage four cancer survivors there,” Caulfield said of the chemo care packaging event. “Someone came up to me and said, ‘I’m at the end of life, I’m at the final stage, and I am going off this earth feeling in such a better place.’ I was inspired. After I heard that, I said we have to keep doing this,” Caulfield said.

This year, Caulfield’s goal is to collect more than 17,000 products and create 1,300 chemo care packages. She also is looking to collect 500 radiation creams for radiation patients as well as $3,000 to go toward gas gift cards.

Caulfield will be distributing the chemo care packages to 25 centers across New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

To gear up for the event, Caulfield has sought the help of different stakeholders across the state. At Hollis Brookline High School, students are hosting a competition to see which class can raise the most money for the cause. Schools in Claremont and New Ipswich are having their students create handmade best wishes cards. 4-H clubs, Boys and Girl Scout troops, a group of women from Wilton and various other community service groups across the state also are pitching in to create cards. An elementary school in Londonderry is hosting a “lend a hand challenge,” where students and staff are being challenged to donate 712 bottles of hand sanitizer. More than 1,000 chemo hats have been knitted and donated. Hollis Police Department is designing pink patches that they will sell to the community. All the proceeds will go toward the cause.

All of this ties in with the event’s tagline: Cancer brings people together.

“At the end of the day, it has gone beyond just filling chemo packages. It has been more about bringing the community together,” Caulfield said.

For Caulfield, running the event is therapeutic.

“Once you finish treatment, everyone says, ‘OK, you’re done, congrats, here’s a big party,’ and what you don’t realize, as somebody who was told they have cancer, is the hard part is once you finish treatment, you go from fight, fight, fight, it is all you can focus on, it is all you can think about, it is almost like it doesn’t sink in and then you go, ‘OK this is my new normal now. I don’t have the ability to rely on the chemo treatments,'” Caulfield said.

Caulfield admitted that despite beating cancer, she is still trying to manage her life around the everyday fear that her cancer could come back.

“This keeps my mind focused on the good, and every day when I hear somebody else has joined the team and is doing something special for the cancer patients, it keeps me happy and puts me in a positive mindframe,” Caulfield said.

Caulfield’s plan is to host this event every year. Because it was such a hit last year, 110 people signed up to be a volunteer for the event within the first three days of announcing registration.

“I’ve found that often times people want to help, they just don’t know how,” Caulfield said. “I think when you just show them and give them this opportunity to find ways to help, it just snowballs and people feel really good about it.”

“It has really been an amazing journey,” Caulfield added.

Caulfield is currently in need of money and product donations to create the chemo care packages and purchase gas gift cards.

The estimated cost of one chemo care package is $10. Every care package will include the following products: an activity item (such as adult coloring books and pencils; journal to jot down thoughts, crossword puzzle and word find books), health and beauty aids (tissues, hand sanitizer, throat lozenges, hard candy/peppermints for dry mouth, eye masks, hand lotion, eye masks, warm fuzzy socks, peppermint teas), a handmade chemo hat, a fleece throw blanket and a handmade card with a hand-written message from community members and students.

Products needed include:

Eye masks: men’s colors and women’s colors.

Men’s fleece socks, size 10-13.

Women’s fleece socks, size 9-11.

50×60 Walmart Mainstay fleece throws.

Aveeno or aquafor lotion: 2.5 ounces.

Hand lotion: travel size.

Hand sanitizer: travel size.

Adult coloring books.

Sudoku, word search or crossword puzzle books.

Playing Cards.

Journals.

Colored pencils: 8,10, or 12-count box.

These products can be dropped off at Hollis Pharmacy and Buckley’s Cafe and Bakery in Hollis or Kelci’s Hair Salon in Brookline.

Amazon and gas gift cards can be mailed or droped off to Ronda Chrystal at 14 Ben Farnsworth Road, Brookline.

The online wish lists for the project, which has a direct shipment option, can be found at https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/RH3YZ12QLT4Z/ref=nav_wishlist_lists_1?_encoding=UTF8&type=wishlist and https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1K-j1CFd9-dpPwsKenEgQHqL-b7jo0YT5HUY0apL4lyM/edit

More information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/events/442565639842633.

Grace Pecci may be reached at 603-594-1243 or gpecci@nashuatelegraph.com.