Helping chemotherapy patients one bag at a time

5 Mins read

According to Cancer Research UK, someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes. Every 120 seconds, someone is told possibly the most frightening news that they will hear in their lifetime. Processing the information is just the start, what follows is an exhaustive period of tests, scans and treatment.

Black tote bags of products by The Treatment Bag

The treatment bags [Instagram:@treatmentbag]

One charity helping cancer patients through their journey is The Treatment Bag, an organisation based in the south west of England that sends bags of products chosen to help the health and wellbeing of those undergoing cancer treatment.

Artefact spoke to trustees Maymie White and Lisa Dennis, who explained that the concept originally started when another trustee was receiving chemotherapy in hospital. “It’s a fairly intimate experience with only three chairs in a room and an oncology nurse. A cider farmer came into here (the trustee) room and was there for chemo too, he was brandishing bags of own farmed apples which he handed out, while issuing friendly ‘hellos’ and ‘hope this helps’.” 

White says that what is admirable is that the farmer knew none of the patients there and expected nothing of his generosity: “He settled himself down in his chair with a grin and everyone went back to themselves.” With a bag of deliciousness on the passenger seat of her car, the trustee in question felt touched and quite special, and so ‘The Treatment Bag’ was born.

Created in Somerset, the charity is completely volunteer-based. Crossing the borders of Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset, all the volunteers tend to also be in full-time education or part-time work, one of whom was just 15 years-old when he started fundraising. “It’s amazing where you can find time if you put your mind to it, it’s a huge incentive. Knowing that every bag sent out brightens someone’s potentially dark day is a very strong motivation,” Dennis said.

[pullquote align=”right”]“The kindness of others lessens the endurance of an otherwise strenuous day.”[/pullquote]The products featured in the bags are tailored to help the side-effects that cancer patients deal with. Brands such as Aesop, Green & Black’s, Cowshed and even Conde Nast have donated products.

Inside, a patient can find a selection of goodies such as pillow spray to aid sleep, cashmere-mix hats to help them feel warm due to restricted circulation in their body, organic chocolate to mask the lingering, metallic taste of drugs, and recovery balm to medicate dry and sensitive skin. 

As for the bags themselves, they are sourced, sewn and screen-printed from a social enterprise in India, Freeset. “We love supporting this charity, it’s based in West Bengal and was set up as an alternative for women faced with, or who are vulnerable to, the sex trade,” White said.

“They follow India’s long tradition of cotton production, making bags and T-shirts and hand-woven fabrics, and create a choice for women.”. The involvement of the charity with Freeset helps women in West Bengal to support their family financially and educationally, as well as helping with healthcare and saving for the future.

Products donated by suppliers for The Treatment Bag displayed on a table

A generous donation of products from suppliers. [Credit: @treatmentbag via Instagram]

The eco-friendly bags are then distributed in two different ways, one is through the organisation Healthcare at Home, who treat cancer patients in the comfort and security of their own household.

“The organisation is wonderful, Healthcare at Home’s practitioners take a bag to each new patient and the feedback has been amazing,” Maymie White said. The other method is through individual requests via The Treatment Bag website, which enables bags to be sent to patients nationwide.

With the soul-stirring nature of the job, come stories that are close to the hearts of the volunteers and trustees. “All of it is heartwarming. Sometimes it’s from the donor and other times it’s directly from the patient,” Lisa Dennis told Artefact.

“Recently, an elderly lady who had been sent a bag herself was inspired to donate twelve bags to other patients at her hospice, to patients who don’t have anyone to send them one, she’s an inspiration,”.

As the number of new cases of cancer continues to rise in England (ONS), so do difficult times like the fog of post-chemo, but the kindness of others lessens the endurance of an otherwise strenuous day.

Lindsey Cave, a luxury cake decorator from Herefordshire, underwent treatment for breast cancer and was sent a Treatment Bag by a fellow online friend who has cancer. “I had the bag sent to me after one of my lowest days of treatment. It gave me such a huge boost during a really dark time,” she said. “I will be forever grateful to The Treatment Bag and my Instagram buddy for helping me dig my way back out of the rabbit hole I’d found myself in.”

[pullquote align=”right”]”Knowing that every bag sent out brightens someone’s potentially dark day is a very strong motivation.”[/pullquote]Another patient, Lisa Pammen, has received two of the Treatment bags during the course of her fight with bowel cancer. Pammen was ‘thrilled’ with both and although the products do not directly stop the side effects of chemotherapy, she said they gave her a ‘lift’.

Using social media as a diary, Lindsey journals her treatment with brutally honest posts for her followers and shares pictures from some of her worst days, all while maintaining a positive outlook. “New drugs did not treat me kindly, I felt so lonely and was desperate for the treatment to be over,” Cave said.

“I decided after diagnosis that I was going to find a positive for each day.”. Lindsey’s optimism was the onset of good news to come, as in December 2018, she was deemed cancer-free after surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Lindsey Cave ringing end of cancer treatment bell

Lindsey Cave ringing the end of cancer treatment bell [Instagram:@backofbeyondbaking]

Another patient is Lisa Pammen. “I’ve received two Treatment bags now and I’m thrilled with both,” she said. Pammen told Artefact her favourite products from the bags: “The True Being body lotion smells divine and helps with the dry skin, I love the Emma Bridgewater mug which I use every day, and I had a beautiful shawl that I take to chemo with me.”

Lisa is currently undergoing weekly chemotherapy treatment for bowel cancer, “I have two treatments weekly, so I just about recover before I do it all again. It consists of being in the hospital all day in the hospital one day, then I come home with a chemo pump on for a further two days, I’m also on long term medication to keep control of my acne side effect”. She said that although the products do no directly halt the side effects of chemotherapy, they provide a lift.

When asked for their predictions for The Treatment Bag, White and Dennis agreed that they want to reach more patients. “In an ideal world, cancer treatments would be simple and effective and The Treatment Bag would be defunct, but sadly there is a staggering number of new cancer patients, each of them deserving of a bag,” Dennis said.

Fundraising and creating bags that target young adults and children are big focuses for 2019, as well as reaching a goal of their volunteers distributing 13,500 bags a year. “Anyone can volunteer. We have been amazed by how generous people are with their time and energy, all are welcome and it couldn’t be easier,” White added.






Know someone that would benefit from a Treatment Bag? Visit here.
Keep up to date with the work of The Treatment Bag via Instagram.
See more of Lindsey Cave’s journey of living with breast cancer via Instagram.

Featured image by The Treatment Bag via Instagram.

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