Lori Genzel remembers seeing first hand "the tremendous love, tenderness and comfort" provided by oncology nurses before her mother Joan Smith died of cancer two years ago, and the loving care given by the nurses who cared for her ailing father James prior to his death earlier this year. She quotes Terri Guillemets, "A nurse will always give us hope, an angel with a stethoscope."
"My family and I will forever be grateful to each and every 'angel' that cared for them," says Genzel, who is something of an angel in her own right. After her mother died, she and other members of the Smith family started Joan's Monarch Wishes, a volunteer organization that sends cards to cancer patients.
Each month, some 220 volunteers (called ambassadors) receive names and addresses of cancer patients who would like to receive a card. The ambassadors are responsible for all materials and postage. They also hold card drives on the anniversary of Smith's death so cards can be delivered en masse to hospitals. Earlier this month, on the second anniversary, Joan's Monarch Wishes donated 1,400 cards to the Cancer Care Center at Orange Regional Medical Center in Middletown, New York.
"Doctors can take care of the physical aspect, but there is something to be said about helping the spirit -- giving someone hope," Genzel explained in a recent newspaper interview. The cards her mother received from friends and family members proved to be a better mood lifter than any drug. "It just reiterated that people still loved and cared about her."
Four years after being diagnosed with uterine cancer, doctors told Smith the disease was in remission. Six months later, they noticed a spot on her lungs. Over the next two years, Genzel said, her mother didn't complain, even after she was in hospice care. "We would read the cards to her because she lost her eyesight... The legacy she left behind was to never give up." Three of her five grandchildren were younger than 8 years old when she died. The family's desire to preserve her memory for the children who had only known her for a short time provided the motivation for Joan's Monarch Wishes.
The origin of the name is a story in itself. Genzel says she asked her mother to give her a sign after death. Her mother said she would come back as a butterfly. "At her funeral a black and yellow butterfly sat on the top of her casket and flowers and wouldn't move." Later, says Genzel, she researched the Monarch butterfly and learned that the caterpillar has four difficult stages to survive before it becomes a butterfly.
The assortment of hand-made and store-bought cards delivered to Orange Regional Medical Center came from ambassadors of all ages and backgrounds: children, scrap-booking groups, medical staff, YMCA, and houses of worship. Joan's Monarch Wishes welcomes new ambassadors, including "mini-monarchs" (child volunteers).
Genzel invites TheONC community to provide patients with contact information for Joan's Monarch Wishes because it is ideal to help cheer up a patient who doesn't get many visitors or cards. "The medical staff cannot share their patients' information with us," she explains. "But they can make the patient and their family aware of Joan's Monarch Wishes and they as individuals can reach out to us on their own. We are building our labor of love... and must adhere to all of the laws and rules. When we do card campaigns for cancer treatment centers and hospitals, the cards are not personally addressed to the recipients."
Patients and caregivers can send email to email@example.com or visit the Facebook page. You can also view a recent TV interview (choose the video "Kisses for Kyle").