Card-makers brighten days of cancer patients

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She's petite and totally nonthreatening with a big, friendly smile and bright eyes. Yet by her own admission, Aleeza Granote can be a little bold -- or at least determined.

That's not such a bad thing.

Last year Granote, an oncology social worker at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, began Card Care Connection, a nonprofit organization that provides supportive cards and hopeful messages to people facing the challenges of a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Card-makers donate their time to create handmade cards and volunteers personalize a handwritten message on each card.

It was a bold step to create the organization. And that boldness has come in handy as Granote has enlisted volunteers and groups to assist her. After getting the first batch of cards from Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Granote researched other church craft groups.

"I started looking up churches all across the United States, and I started calling and kept calling. They were impressed that I took the time to do the research," Granote said.

Granote set an initial goal of getting 50 cards. When the first group sent in 34 cards, "I thought 'Boy, we might be on to something.'"

Card Care Connection has more than 35 groups and 27 individuals volunteering across 15 different states. To date, they have received more than 2,000 handmade cards.

Granote has worked full time with inpatient and outpatient oncology care at the hospital for almost a year. Before that she worked part time at Cardinal Glennon and prior to that worked with adult cancer patients at another hospital. She came up with the idea there when she saw people who were without a support system. "They were going home to poor living conditions, had no one to pick them up and no one to come visit them. I thought, what can I do to make a difference for people who are going through such a difficult time? It would be nice to do something to lift their spirits during a lonely and isolating time."

The program she developed is for people of any age across the country, though the focus is mainly is on the local area. The card recipients can be in any stage of the disease and from any demographic group. "If someone can benefit, we'll send them a card. They're all free. So many programs are only for certain zip codes or only if people are low-income. I want it to be open to anyone," Granote said.

On the one hand, it is simply a card. But "to someone who's not feeling well, sitting at home and can't get to school or go outside for a walk, it can lift their spirit. I believe medicine is important, but psychological well-being goes hand-in-hand in this process."

At Cardinal Glennon, she said, that aspect is less likely to be overlooked for the young patients, with efforts made to ensure their stay is positive. But that isn't often the case for adult patients elsewhere, especially those who are outpatients.

The program gives card-makers a sense of purpose and a feeling that they are giving back to others. Most of the card-makers are from churches or retirement centers, and even sororities, and they do quality work, making cards that put commercial card-makers to shame. Other card-makers are individuals. Three volunteers write the messages.

Donna Cook of the monthly crafting group at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church said that "outreach to the community is important to us. We enjoy sharing our creative gifts and feel blessed to know that our cards will help lift people's spirits who are living with cancer."

Donated cards are matched with patients who may have a particular interest that fits the card. Granote has yet to focus on fund-raising to pay for costs of postage and instead mostly digs into her pocket to cover costs. She has had in-kind donations, including a graphic designer who did posters and a web designer. She welcomes donations of cash and supplies.

In her job, Granote works to lift patients' and families' spirits, seeking to make a difference for them. She helps with financial resources, transportation, home assistance and more. A priority is assistance with their schoolwork. She started a school achievement program and reading program.

As stated in an item written about her from Cardinal Glennon, Granote's generosity and love of helping others doesn't end with her work day. Granote noted that cancer diagnosis and treatment is a vulnerable and frightening time for people, and she wants them to know others are cheering for them, praying for them and caring about them.

Kimberly J. Whoberry, nursing team leader, said that Granote shows care and compassion to all the patients at Cardinal Glennon and is an important asset to the hematology/oncology team. "I am not surprised that this continues past her work day because she is a perfect example of the meaning of the SSM mission and values. She truly enjoys what she does, and it is evident by the smiles of so many that she touches each day."

Provides support and encouragement to those facing the challenge of a cancer diagnosis through caring cards and hopeful messages.

Ways to help:

• Making cards. Brightening a person's day gives groups and individuals a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Professional, handmade cards are sought. Contact Card Care Connection for guidelines.

• Donating money. All funds go to postage, supplies and identifying potential recipients

• Donating supplies shared with card-making groups.

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