The idea was borne out of a deep friendship and a lasting loss, but because of those two things, area cancer patients are finding out about Cancer Perks.
“There are no perks about cancer, I know you are thinking that,” Whitney Cromley, founder of Cancer Perks, wrote on her blog. “But if the name has left you flabbergasted, shocked, or even a little upset, let me tell you why I called this organization what I did.”
Cromley explained that her best friend was battling cancer for the second time in six years when the owner of a local restaurant gave her a free potato one day for lunch following a chemo treatment.
“The owner didn’t have to do that, but like several friends, family members and others who were always wanting to provide some type of support to her, they did, and as she always did, she thanked them with a huge smile on her face,” Cromley said. “She called these random acts of kindness ‘Cancer Perks.’
“I always loved that she was able to put a perk on cancer, refusing it to let her steal her joy and her hope,” Cromley added. “That was who she was, always praising God in a storm.”
Cromley said that at the end of February, 13 months after her friend died, she wrote a blog describing the organization Cromley planned to establish in memory of her friend.
Cancer Perks helps cancer patients at the Susan O’Brien-Fischer Cancer Center at Bothwell Regional Health Center in two ways.
They give cancer “perk” bags to every new patient at the hospital filled with items, many that are specifically requested by cancer patients.
The second way is through their Cancer Perk Resources, which assists cancer patients with tasks such as mowing yards, driving patients to and from chemo or radiation treatments, and offering other support through personal visits or support groups and small monetary assistance.
“The purpose of the organization isn’t to raise funds to cure cancer or for the latest medical research,” Cromley said. “There are other organizations that focus on those efforts.
“All of the money and donations that we raise stays here to immediately help patients at Bothwell,” she added. “We focus on what may seem to be small things but they are important to others who are facing cancer and their families.”
Cromley explained that her friend had a huge support system of friends and family who were there to help and would sit with her during the hours of chemo and radiation that she faced.
“As we would sit with her in the hospital we noticed that there were so many patients who didn’t seem to have anyone there to be with them,” Cromley said. “The bags let them know that there is someone right here in their corner who is willing to help.
“We want to make sure that everyone has someone because not everyone is blessed with that,” she added. “We never want someone to have to choose between having the funds to pay for their treatment or buy groceries.”
Although current patients and each new consultation to the hospital receives a “perk” bag, the program is just starting to provide other services. Due to FERPA and HIPA, Cancer Perks doesn’t know the names of local cancer patients unless Bothwell tells the patient about the program, and in turn the patient contacts Cancer Perks for assistance.
The members have provided rides for patients who needed transportation to their treatments.
“We are monitoring the monetary amount of help that we provide because we want to make sure that the funds are distributed in a way that we can help the greatest needs,” Cromley said. “We don’t want to have any expenses or overhead.
“Sedalia and area towns have been so supportive about helping with whatever we need,” she added. “It has been overwhelming to us when we stop and think about all the help and support we have received in just two months.”
While much of the support has come from businesses and civic organizations, some has come from some unexpected places.
Seven area schools have students who made cards for the patient bags and two young residents decided they would forgo their birthday presents, asking instead for donations to Cancer Perks.
“Our sons, Cale, who is 6, and Connor, who is 7, decided that this year they didn’t want to get presents and toys for their birthday but instead wanted to have the money donated to help others,” said Sara Thorpe, the boys’ mother. “We live in the country and at last year’s birthday the boys wanted to spend more time playing with their friends and one another than they did wanting to play with their gifts.
“I was definitely nervous about how they would react after I suggested they do this but it worked out great,” she added. “I saw some of Whitney’s posts and I have lost some friends to cancer and so hopefully this will catch on with others.”
The boys were given $200 in gifts and Thorpe said she was looking forward to donating part of the money directly to Cancer Perks but also wanted her sons to use a portion of the funds to purchase items for the bags.
“We want the boys to go buy some of the things so they can understand what the money is used for,” Thorpe said. “Our sons are extremely fortunate and we try to teach them that there are others who are sick or who may not have as much as they do.”
Helping to lift the spirits of another is what Cromley’s friend always tried to do.
“My friend was so thankful for all of the meals and gift cards and thoughtfulness that others were doing to take care of her and her family when sometimes the last thing she wanted to think about herself was food, all too often,” Cromley said. “When we were looking for a logo for the organization, we talked to her family and there were two things that just seemed to stand out that we all remembered.
“She loved to clean and she used a lot of lemon-scented cleaning products and every year on her birthday she always had lemon cake and Pepsi,” Cromley added.
Above all, it was her unending spirit and faith that Cromley wanted to honor.
“She was always finding a way to add sugar to life’s lemons,” Cromley said. “She taught us that life is short, that we must live and that sometimes the little things in life are the every-things in life.”
Cancer Perks has several fundraisers planned, including one from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday at Panera Bread. Customers are asked to bring in a flier that can be found at www.cancerperks.com or at their Facebook page Cancer Perks.A percentage of the profits from sales will go to Cancer Perks.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484