Just before Thanksgiving last year, Anthony and Kari Lindsay were wondering if they'd ever have anything to be thankful for again. Earlier that fall, Anthony had noticed a strange bump on the roof of his mouth. "I asked my dentist about it and he wasn't really sure what was going on," Anthony tells us. "He did some X-rays, but we really couldn't figure it out."
A biopsy later confirmed what the couple had come to fear: Anthony had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. "At that point, you don't know whether it's only in the mouth or if it's spread," Kari says. She then pauses to look down at their soon-to-be two-year-old son, Nathan. "And then, of course, you start thinking, 'Is he going to be around to see our little guy grow up?'" Kari continues. "That was our – my – first concern."
After his diagnosis, Anthony was referred to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, where additional testing confirmed that the cancer was confined to his mouth. He began an intense 12-day radiation treatment program that ultimately proved successful. "I went in for another scan three months later and things looked pretty good," he says. "A few months later, I was told I was in the clear."
For Kari, having Anthony's doctors at Mayo Clinic tell him he was cancer-free was like having the weight of the world lifted off of her shoulders. "It was the good news we needed to hear," she says.
Having survived their cancer journey, Anthony and Kari wanted to help other patients. So they returned to Mayo Clinic this week — with young Nathan in tow — to hand-deliver "blessing bags" they made to help others going through the same fight at the same time of year. "We know how tough it is to go through this during the holidays," Kari says. The blessing bags, she says, "are just a drop in the bucket, but we're hoping they do at least something to help, and to let the other patients here know that someone cares about them besides their care teams."
Anthony and Kari stuffed each bag with items they found most helpful during Anthony's cancer journey. Things like word search books, tissues ("Anthony always seemed to have a runny nose during treatment"), unscented lotion ("to keep treatment areas hydrated"), hand sanitizer ("because it's cold and flu season"), granola bars ("for snacks between meals"), lip balm ("to help with the dry lips … during treatment"), and bags of mints and lemon candy ("because patients can sometimes get a metallic taste in their mouths from the radiation"). And last but not least, a $10 gift card to a local convenience store.
Each card also includes an inspirational saying, like the one that Kari says helped her during Anthony's treatments. "It says, 'You never know how strong you are until strong is the only choice you have,'" she tells us. "I lived by that."
Anthony's radiation nurse, Carolyn Schultz, tells us Anthony and Kari's "blessing bags" are an inspiration themselves. "They're a phenomenal gift," she says. "When patients come here, we're asking them to buy lotions and do these different things, and that can become a real burden cash-wise. So to be able to give them a gift like this … it truly is a blessing."
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