Published on April 15, 2016

Volunteer’s gift bags brighten cancer patients’ dayVolunteer’s gift bags brighten cancer patients’ day

Valerie Cummings calls her business Wicked Awesome Bags. Some chemotherapy patients at Cape Cod Hospital would agree that the name is a perfect fit.

With the help of friends and clients, Cummings assembles gift bags for cancer patients to help lift their spirits. Each bag’s contents include magazines, nail files, hand cream, playing cards, crossword puzzles, candy, water bottles and a blanket handmade by a local quilting group.

“It’s near and dear to my heart to help someone in need,” said Cummings, a mother of two who lives in Wareham. “I’ve always been the type to try to make someone smile on a bad day. If I can do that for a cancer patient, that’s what I’m meant to do.”

“These beautiful bags, all donated, are filled with the sorts of things that any patient would use,” said Libby Gately, oncology analyst in Cape Cod Hospital’s medical oncology department. “They are made with care and thought.”

The bags are presented to patients by Gately or the chemotherapy room’s nurse manager.

“I’ve seen people who fought cancer and won, and people who fought and lost the war. I lost a cousin to cancer when we were both seven and a sister-in-law to breast cancer, who was only 46,” said Cummings.

She wanted to do something to help. She knew she’d found the answer when she heard about a friend who made a chemo bag for her mother.

In addition to her part-time job as a financial services representative for Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank, Cummings is an independent director for 31 Gifts, a company that sells purses, totes and other items online and through home parties.

Cummings told her customers that if they bought a Zip-Top Organizing Utility Tote ($35), which is a bit smaller than a beach bag, she would use her commission plus other donations to fill the tote’s seven pockets with goodies.

“I have so many customers who want to give back,” said Cummings.

An elementary school art teacher had her class make get well cards to go into the totes. A Girl Scout did a book drive and donated books for the bags, and then other Girl Scouts donated cookies. The Key Club at a local high school donated items and then helped fill the bags.

Recently, Cummings brought 28 bags to Cape Cod Hospital. Some are meant for women, some for men. This is the second year she has donated the bags to the hospital’s Davenport-Mugar Cancer Center, and she intends to continue as long as she can.

“I do it because I know what cancer can do to someone,” she said. “I’d love to figure out a way to make this bigger. I’d love to do 100 bags.”

Gately said it’s been moving to see the patients’ reactions.

“It has made a big difference for them. They’re sitting in a treatment room and they get a bag from someone they don’t know. They’re shocked. They can’t believe that’s it all been done by volunteers,” she said. “‘I can’t believe someone who doesn’t know me would do all this’ is what I’ve heard again and again.”