Joy Rodgers knows how scary a cancer diagnosis can be. The school nurse, volunteer paramedic and mother of two young children was only 35 years old when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2016. After 16 rounds of chemo, a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy following the subsequent discovery that she is a carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation, Rodgers went into remission in December of that year. But her experience changed her – and gave her an idea.
“When I was sick, I got tons of gifts and food. It was amazing. But my best friend in Toronto put together a care package for me and she really did her research and sent me everything that I really needed,” says Rodgers.
Inspired by this, she started Joyful Packages, a business that creates and delivers gift packages specifically for cancer patients and caregivers. Launched this past fall, the business has taken off quickly, with gift baskets having already been sent all over Canada, the U.S. and Israel.
There are four types of packages offered through the service. The in-treatment package offers a variety of healthy snacks and carefully selected items that Rodgers knows are useful during treatment, like Chapstick and ginger chews to combat nausea, as well as some fun specialty items.
The in-recovery package offers those who have completed their treatment items to help them with their first steps on the road to recovery. “That was my first basket,” says Rodgers. “When I was told there was no evidence of disease and that I was in remission, aside from occasional follow-ups, I was on my own. It’s hard to go, like the flick of a switch, back to being you. The goal of the recovery package is to make life easier to get back into life following treatment.”
The caregiver package offers something for the often-unsung heroes who take care of cancer patients.
The young warrior package, which contains fun items to keep young hospital patients occupied, was the most difficult for Rodgers to put together. “It breaks my heart to hear of a child diagnosed with cancer. I don’t want there to be cancer out there, I don’t want there to be suffering, but at the same time, if there’s going to be cancer, I want to put a smile on their faces,” she says.
To Rodgers’ surprise and delight, there have been a lot of packages that have been purchased anonymously for strangers, prompting her to add an entire section to her website devoted to this category. “I’m brought to tears by how helpful and how wonderful people are. There are people who are buying baskets and, in the shipping address, writing, ‘To anyone you feel who might need this.’ ” When possible, Rodgers sends a photo of the recipient opening the packages to the sender. Each month, Rodgers also features a “warrior of the month” and a portion of the month’s sales go to that person’s charity of choice.
Her main goal with this project is to help cancer patients and caregivers feel loved and understood. She says that people are often at their most vulnerable when they are ill and that they worry that life will go on without them. “I want people receiving the packages to feel loved and cared for,” she said. “Know that people are fighting with you and fighting for you.”
For more information, visit joyfulpackages.ca.