Angela Sekeris is proof positive that truly good deeds can come from difficult times.
Eight years ago, Valentine’s Day was approaching and she was dreading it.
Her husband, Rob, had died from lung cancer two years earlier. Facing another Valentine’s Day without him was so challenging.
“When you lose someone, all holidays are hard. I was in a bit of a dark place,” she said. “I needed to do something positive.”
She began thinking of her husband’s chemo treatments at Bluewater Health’s cancer clinic, how he never complained, maintained his sense of humour and was grateful for his care.
“He was a glass half full type of person,” said Angela. “I wanted to honour him.”
That bleak Valentine’s Day in 2014 is when she came up with the idea for Totes of Hope.
It’s why every chemo patient at Bluewater Health now receives a large bag of personal care items to use during treatment and a big, warm blanket to sooth them.
This December Angela, a clinical nurse specialist for stroke at Bluewater Health, will deliver tote number 1,000 to the cancer clinic.
“Through her loss, Angela started something truly special,” says Kathy Alexander, executive director at the Bluewater Health Foundation.
Angela says she does it to keep Rob’s legacy alive. The people who know her say her exceptional program makes a real difference to local chemotherapy patients.
“I’ve had the privilege of knowing Angela for many years and she is an unsung hero,” said Kathy. “She does so much to help others with no expectation for anything in return. I am so happy she is being recognized for all that she does.
“Totes of Hope is more than just a care package,” added Kathy. “It is a gesture of kindness. It is a message of hope. It is a way to let those undergoing chemotherapy know that they are not alone.”
Each tote contains about $50 worth of lotions, lip balm, writing materials, socks, mints, tissues and other personal items. The blankets come at an additional cost but are generally donated, said Angela.
Initially, she quietly filled the bags herself with her daughter Emily’s help. “We took them to the clinic for patients having their first chemo treatment,” she said. “The charge nurse told me the feedback was so great. She said the totes were a little bit of sunshine on their darkest day.”
Angela wanted to continue the program without publicity but the demand became too high.
What began as 100 totes a year has doubled. Angela speculates it’s because Sarnia has a second oncologist now.
So she has started a system where individuals can sponsor a tote for $35. Angela fundraises the rest or contributes herself. Sometimes larger donations come in. And a number of churches provide handmade blankets.
Each tote comes with a handwritten note identifying its sponsor or offering an encouraging message like, “No one fights alone.”
Another group of loyal contributors is from the “fun job” she has on the side selling Thirty-One Gifts products.
“A lot of my Thirty-One customers help out,” she said. “And I can’t forget about the (cancer clinic) nurses. I couldn’t do it without them.”
More recently, the Bluewater Health Foundation has started accepting donations (www. https://www.bwhf.ca/donate) and providing receipts for Totes of Hope.
Offering some form of comfort with the totes also comforts her, Angela added.
“Every time I wonder if I can keep this up, I get a beautiful message saying someone they don’t even know has cared enough to do this for them. Now more than ever, I hear from people who received them.
“It puts life into perspective for me.”
Who do you consider an exceptional person in Sarnia-Lambton? Nominate someone you know and explain why you think they should be The Journal’s Exceptional Person of the Week. Email [email protected].