Beautiful Boxes for Courageous Kids with Cancer

Joe and Karen Davis come to Mayo Clinic regularly for medical appointments, but they also take time for another important task: delivering the wooden boxes Joe makes for pediatric cancer patients.

Joe and Karen Davis don't look like typical Happy Meal enthusiasts. But the Davises, retirees from Topeka, Kansas, are serious about collecting the tiny toys McDonald's tucks in with its burgers and fries. The couple's collection isn't for themselves, though, or even for their grandchildren. Instead, they repurpose the plastic characters, giving them new life atop beautiful wooden boxes that Joe makes for some of Mayo Clinic's youngest patients. "It makes us feel good to be able to do something for these kids," Joe says.

These aren't just toy boxes. Joe's creations are designed for a specific and special purpose: holding the Beads of Courage that are given to pediatric cancer patients to mark milestones in their treatment journeys. Each bead represents something different, such as a blood draw, surgery or hair loss. Some children collect thousands of the colorful beads, a powerful testament to all they've endured.

"Our patients have to go through a lot," Amy Petersen, a pediatric oncology nurse, tells us. "Being able to have a beautiful wooden box allows them to store all their beads in one place. The kids can then pull out their beads and tell their own unique story to family and friends."

When Joe learned about the Beads of Courage program through one of the woodturning organizations he belongs to, it didn't take him long to decide to get involved. "I was trying to think of some way I could give back to Mayo," Joe says. "Mayo is a special place to us and means a lot to us. We're not wealthy. But making these boxes was something I could do."

The Davises have been coming to Mayo Clinic every three months since 2016, a few years after Karen was first diagnosed with Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia. When she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, they turned to Mayo physicians to treat that as well. During their visits, they often sit in Landow Atrium, listening to musical performances and watching other patients — including many children — pass by. Those children were on Joe's mind when he learned about Beads of Courage. "You realize there are people with a lot worse situations than you're facing," he says.

Now, whenever Karen has an appointment, the Davises deliver another batch of boxes. Joe has made close to 40 so far, and has no plans to slow down. "He always asks for suggestions to improve, as he wants each child to have their own specially made box," Petersen tells us. Joe says it makes him happy knowing his gifts bring a little sunshine into the lives of those who receive them. "It means a lot to hear the kids were excited to get a box, or to hear it made their parents smile," he tells us.

The boxes make Petersen and her colleagues smile, too. "This means the world to me," Petersen says. "These boxes are very expensive and I don't have the budget to order them. Joe donates all the boxes to us. He donates his time and materials and makes these out of the kindness of his heart."

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