Soon after Gordon Grau began treatment for colon cancer, his family received a gift bag from a friend. It was filled with "things we could use at the hospital, things you don't think about packing," says Shannon Grau-Quail, Gordon's widow. "It really brightened our day."
The gesture made a lasting impression on Gordon's daughter, Carli, who is now helping brighten the days of other families touched by cancer. She's creating and donating Carli's Cancer Care Kits to medical centers, including Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, where her father received treatment before he passed away in 2012. Each kit includes items inspired by her own experience.
"The kits aren't just for the cancer patients but for their families as well," Carli, 17, tells us of the goodies she assembles and packages in a zippered pencil case. The case is designed to be placed in a three-ring binder like those many patients use for their medical records. Each kit contains 10 items. Among them are disinfecting wipes, lip balm, a mini toothbrush, a notebook, pen and — something Carli found especially useful — a deck of cards. During her father's 35-day hospitalization at Mayo Clinic, she tells us, "A deck of cards was my absolute best friend."
Carli's project began as a way to fulfill a National Honor Society service requirement. But it quickly evolved into something more, and something more personal. "I put in way more hours than I needed and just kept going with it," she tells us. "I knew after my dad passed away that I wanted to do something related to cancer to give back." To date, she's created 150 kits. The first 50 were hand-delivered to patients receiving chemotherapy at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center near the family's home in Iowa, where her father had received some of his treatment. "There were stories shared and tears shed," Carli tells us of making those deliveries.
And in December, she achieved a "major goal" she'd set for herself by bringing 100 kits to the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center. Her hope, she tells us, is that the patients and families who receive the kits "will know that there are people thinking about them and caring about them." (Check and check.)
Though Carli will soon be heading off to college, she plans to continue creating and donating the care kits, and to add even more items that could be useful to cancer patients and their families, such as plastic silverware. ("Chemo leaves a metal taste in your mouth," she tells us.) And no matter how big her project grows, there's one item that will always be in every kit: the love of a daughter for a father taken far too soon. "She put these kits together with love," says Janine Kokal, a patient educator at the Cancer Center. And that's always something worth sharing.
You can share some love with us by commenting below. And, you can use the handy social media tools to share this story with others.