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Caring for cancer patients with 'comfort kits'

Tuesday - 2/4/2014, 5:24pm  ET

WASHINGTON -- A young charity is taking a unique approach to helping cancer patients.

Giving Comfort was founded in 2012 to provide the little things that mean so much to those enduring long, sometimes painful hours of treatment.

The focus is on providing "comfort kits" to low-income patients. The kits include things like soft, pull down caps, fuzzy non-skid socks, and polar fleece throws. They also contained items designed to help fill long waits, such as puzzle books and journals.

Elizabeth Howland, the managing director of Giving Comfort, joined the non-profit after losing her husband, David Yearsley, to metastatic melanoma in 2011.

"I loved the idea of being part of a charity that is focused on supporting cancer patients as they go through treatment," she says.

Howland learned from her own experience that small acts of kindness can make a big difference to someone battling cancer. And while the big charities do a great job of raising money for research and raising awareness, she says patients also need that one-on-one approach.

The founders of Giving Comfort surveyed over a thousand patients, oncology professionals and caregivers to find out which personal items that would be the most welcome, Howland says.

Of particular concern were those patients who could not afford to buy them on their own. While anyone can purchase a kit from Giving Comfort for a friend or loved one, a national network has sprung to make sure financially-strapped patients get what they need.

All kits bought with donations include a handwritten note from a Giving Comfort staffer. Howland says the notes have touched a responsive chord with patients, and that many have told her they can't believe someone they don't know thought to send something to them.

Giving Comfort is building on the "healing" power of the written word with a new project. It is collecting messages of hope on its website for cancer patients.

Howland says the goal is to collect 1.6 million words of comfort, "because there are 1.6 million people diagnosed with cancer each year."

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