My Hope Bag means exactly that to the more than 2,000 cancer patients that the Queen Creek nonprofit has served.
Founder/CEO Sarah Ellery has navigated the journey from diagnosis through remission. Since 2011, her nonprofit has delivered a bundle of resources to “cancer warriors” including the most important one of them all.
“One of the biggest things is having a friend and not facing it alone,” Ellery said.
Ellery was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2009 but has remained in remission for the past 12 years.
While her husband and three children stood by her side through the ordeal, she said they couldn’t fathom what she was dealing with.
This firsthand experience helps her bring a sense of understanding to other cancer patients in the hopes that she can answer as many of their questions as possible.
The organization has remained small and maintains that sense of community that’s helped keep their gifts simple yet helpful.
“We’re not that big, but we’re able to give them enough that they know that we care,” Ellery said. “And we just try to help them through their journey.”
In 2015, the group grew large enough to start the “Hope Sister” program that has volunteers contact a requester and brings them the bag and support during their fight with cancer.
Patients can find up to a dozen comforting items in the bags including a pink blanket, heart pillow, gift cards, and handmade cards and bracelets.
Ellery said she finds the handmade pink beaded bracelets extra special because she’s reminded of her own journey and how it motivated her to continue the battle.
“Just having that bling kept reminding me that I was going to fight through this,” she said.
The constant donations they receive means the group doesn’t have to buy much but they value each bag at $75 (or $90 to ship it).
This makes it easier to accept donations “so that we can make sure that we get this to another cancer warrior,” she said.
In 2016, the program Bingo for Boobies started and three years later raised enough funds to start providing free mammograms for women with little to no insurance.
She said over the years, recipients have shown great appreciation for the bags and have helped patients get through a very difficult time in their life.
“I have a drawer full of thank you cards from women who have received bags,” she said.
The care doesn’t end with the delivery of the bag as volunteers will follow-up regularly at three-, six- and 12-month mark from their first visit.
Despite all the good My Hope Bag brings, the reality of cancer remains and she said people she’s grown close some have “earned their wings.”
Of the thousands they’ve helped over the last 10 years, Ellery said approximately five people they help die each year due to the illness.
It hit close to home several weeks ago when the organization’s secretary and treasurer Robyn Zepeda lost her battle with breast cancer on May 15. She was 54 and left behind a husband and three sons.
She was originally diagnosed in 2016 and “was stable for three years,” but in June 2020 that cancer had returned.
“She was very involved with My Hope Bag, and we had plans up through the end of the year,” Ellery said. “But when it’s ready to take over, it takes over.”
Now, Ellery said she wants to fulfill her idea that Robyn quickly gravitated toward: a respite house.
She said she dreams of a quaint house as a sanctuary for cancer patients to get away and relax from the stress of appointments and chemotherapy.
She said she wants to offer a place where people can sit, put their feet up, have some tea, and bask in each other’s company.
Some of the other amenities she wants to bring to the house include a garden and a seclusion room.
“This is one thing that Robin really wanted to be a part of,” she said.
Ellery said she already has a name picked out for the sanctuary: Robyn’s Nest.
With little funding, she runs the nonprofit from her home and the respite house remains an idea.
She said she wants to continue providing what she can to those braving the fight against breast cancer, men and women alike.
“That’s one of the things that we are trying to get out is to let people know that we’re available for both,” she said.