Donna Chamberlain knows first-hand the hardships a cancer diagnosis can bring people.
After she was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2015, Donna, who was self-employed at the time, lost her business and home.
“I lost material things, but I had a great support system with family and friends,” says the 52-year-old Niagara Falls resident.
While she was receiving treatment at Niagara Health’s Walker Family Cancer Centre, Donna said she met patients “who didn’t have the same support.”
After hearing these stories, she wanted to find a way to help others.
Following the completion of her chemotherapy treatment, Donna gave a cancer centre staff member a basket of items to pass along to another cancer patient in a bid to “give them a lift and help them out.”
In February 2017, Donna was told the cancer had spread to her lungs and bones. She would require more chemotherapy.
While she was focused on her healthcare journey, Donna still thought of others. Since April, Donna has been bringing gift bags full of essential items for cancer patients. The items are generously donated by family and friends through a Facebook group she started called Sisters Support Centre.
The support, she said, has been overwhelming.
“Every time I put the call out on Facebook and say, ‘This is what we need,’ people are quick to help. There’s never been a doubt each time we’ve done it that we could meet the goal.”
In addition, Donna's husband, Rick, plays in a band called Willowood, which has made contributions to the cause through their gigs.
Since April, Donna has donated more than 100 bags filled with thermometers, blankets, oral care products, water bottles, hot and cold pads, colouring books and other helpful items.
“It makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile,” Donna says of the bags. “I’ve learned a lot through it (her healthcare journey), so if I can take what I’ve learned and help other people a little bit, then it’s worth something.”
Brenda Luscombe, Director of Niagara Health’s Oncology Program, says Donna’s act of kindness is inspiring.
“The compassion that we see our patients have toward each other is amazing,” says Brenda. “I’m always inspired by patients’ will to help each other. What she is doing is a wonderful thing.”
Brenda says the gift bags mean a lot to the patients who receive them.
“They don’t feel alone, they feel supported,” she says. “These are strangers who are helping to support them through a difficult journey.”
Donna says she is thankful for the support of people who make donations and grateful for the feedback from cancer patients who have received the bags.
“I’ve received messages from people who tell me how much it has meant to them,” she says. “It inspires me to keep going.”
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