Ringing the bell
for victory over cancer
The Bell Fund provides comfort to patients undergoing cancer treatment
By Anne Sutherland
Four years ago, Judy Martin had no idea she was about to embark on a journey that would see her delivering a sermon in a Montreal West Church, making a pitch to one of the city’s largest philanthropic organizations, and sorting Stillwell’s humbugs in a freezing cold Lachine warehouse. The Westmount native is no stranger to philanthropy as she has been involved as president of Batshaw Youth and Family Centres for decades. Now the fundraising and awareness is personal.
After finding a lump in her breast in 2012, Martin underwent chemotherapy, a radical double mastectomy, radiation therapy, buried her brother-in-law, and found the strength and determination to pay back those who treated her so well. Her next project was to help other cancer patients.
She joked about the series of what some would view as insurmountable obstacles by selling baseball hats, toques and mugs embroidered with ‘shit happens’, with all the proceeds going to cancer research. She visited multiple schools in Montreal and the Eastern Townships, told her tale and collected cards of encouragement from the young students.
The culmination of this wild adventure is the creation of The Bell Fund, a grassroots program that will see tens of thousands of cancer patients supplied with a free comfort kit to get them through their cancer treatment. It was launched on February 4, 2016, World Cancer Day, in a sunny atrium of the research centre at the Glen campus of the new MUHC.
The culmination of this wild adventure is
the creation of The Bell Fund, a grassroots program
that will see tens of thousands of cancer patients
supplied with a free comfort kit to get them
through their cancer treatment.
Martin, accompanied by the medical team who oversaw her treatment, rang a brass ship’s bell she donated in 2013 to celebrate the completion of her chemotherapy. This time it was to launch phase two of her giving back. The bell, weighing a mere two pounds, carries an emotional weight known only to those who ring it and the teams that get them to that point.
Whether you complete your chemo or have to stop because the chemo isn’t working or your body cannot tolerate it, you get to ring the bell. The bell is engraved with the words: Lucky, Grateful, Hopeful. It represents all the blood, sweat and tears that get a patient through the time spent hooked up to an intravenous needle with poison dripping into their veins to kill the cancer cells.
“Throughout my treatment I was given such outstanding care that I wanted to give back” Martin said. “One of my observations was that we (in the cancer centre) didn’t celebrate the end of chemo. I asked the nurses and they said sometimes they had clackers from Dollarama, but they didn’t really seem to do anything special.”
The Bell Fund, in collaboration with the MUHC’s Cedars Cancer Foundation and Cedars CanSupport, will provide 4,500 people annually diagnosed with cancer with a comfort kit containing a soft fleece blanket with a foot pocket, a reusable water bottle for taking medication, a notebook and pen to jot down the instructions given by doctors and nurses, those amazing humbug mints to sooth sore throats and mitigate the metallic taste that can be a side-effect of chemo, and a magazine to pass the time. The kits all come in a canvas shoulder bag, the same size as a reusable shopping bag, which has been graciously donated by Travelway Group International. “Visits to the hospital are difficult. Treatments are often long and exhausting,” reads a brochure tucked into the kit that explains what it is for.
Martin describes her adventure and her program to ‘pay forward’ her gratitude for the excellent care and compassion she experienced at the Royal Victoria Hospital on a hand signed card to make it more personal for the patients. Another homey touch is the construction paper card, carefully made by school kids, saying things like “You can do it!” and “I have faith in you.”
“Those cards are a huge hit with the patients, I’ve seen grown men cry over cards written by 7-year olds,” Martin said.
The indefatigable Martin spent a year canvassing suppliers and manufacturers to get the best price for the contents of the comfort kit she envisaged. Designs were drawn up and prototypes made. The various components were delivered to the Simard Transport warehouse in January.
The kits are assembled in the warehouse by a team of Martin’s friends and other volunteers. There have been packing parties in January, March and April. The company stores the shrink-wrapped pallets full of 75 kits, as storage at the new hospital is at a premium. Individual gifts from people like you and me have raised $56,000 to fund comfort kits; as of mid March the total amount raised is over $157,000.
“This is not a one-shot deal, we need to raise $1 million, to build an endowment so that the comfort kit program is sustainable. We need all the help we can get from the Montreal community at large”, Martin said.
Martin hopes that many patients receiving the comfort kit will pay it forward by buying one for the next guy or girl. The kits cost $30 each. Buying a kit in honour of a friend has become a popular fundraising tool for those who have enough stuff! In February, three adult children pooled their resources and bought five comfort kits for their dad’s birthday, to honour each family member and friend who had lost a battle with cancer. A Mother’s Day campaign will encourage people to buy a kit to honour their own mother or make a difference for someone else’s mother.
A special event has been scheduled for Wednesday, April 27 as a fundraiser, a boxing match at the exclusive Montreal Racket Club on rue de la Concorde. General Admission to the Fight for The Bell costs $200 and covers dinner, two drinks and six matches by boxers sanctioned by Boxe Quebec. There are also corporate tables of nine for sale.
A special event has been scheduled for Wednesday, April 27 as a fundraiser, a boxing match at the exclusive Montreal Racket Club … One of the fighters, Scott Chapman, is a cancer survivor, making this personal for him as well …
One of the fighters, Scott Chapman, is a cancer survivor, making this personal for him as well; he trained himself back into shape by boxing, and will put his pride on the line in the final fight of the evening.
“It’s important that the community understands that the comfort kit program is a patient-driven, grassroots initiative. We are happy if a donor gives us $1 or $1,000 because it allows them to join us in making the cancer experience more comfortable for patients… which is priceless,” Martin said.
For information or to donate to The Bell Fund go to cedars.ca/thebellfund
To reserve a spot at Fight for the Bell, call Gina Steszyn at 514 934-1934, ext. 71207.
Images: courtesy of The Bell Fund
Freelance journalist, took a buy-out from The Gazette in 2015 after 32 years. Lifelong friend of Judy Martin and part of The Bell fund team of volunteer fundraisers and friends. My mother died of ovarian cancer in 2006 so this is a battle close to my heart.