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RAYNHAM — The middle of a chemotherapy treatment might not seem like the time to worry about having a phone charger handy, but it happens, just one of an array of unexpected day-to-day challenges that come about during cancer treatment.
Since being diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2019, Raynham mother of three Jenna Lyons has learned well all the many things that might come up in the course of a full day of doctor’s appointments, waiting rooms and treatment sessions. It’s hard to know what to bring or what’s needed, and with a mix of high emotions and monotony, Lyons says it helps to have everything in order and a few favorite comfort items within easy reach.
The Little Things: Jenna’s Wish List is her way of giving a little something back after an outpouring of support from family, friends and all the many people who have offered prayers or lent a hand over the past three years. The Amazon wish list, which is posted on all her social media pages, asks for a variety of practical items like phone chargers, face masks, water bottles; comfort items like lotions, nail polish and blankets; and a few more items for keeping busy, like books, puzzles and coloring books.
What’s on Jenna’s Wish List?
“Just so many different things are on there that have helped me, or you know, that I know would help other people,” Lyons said.
“Even like, oh especially, the phone charger thing… the worst thing in the world is being at, you know, an eight-hour day of infusions and you forgot to plug your phone in the night before. So I have a lot of portable phone chargers to give out.”
While a water bottle is certainly practical for hydration necessities, some nail polish or lip gloss or a cozy winter cap is a bit of everyday comfort in a life largely turned upside down.
“Just simple stuff that can help you still kind of feel pretty even when you’re, you know, not really feeling pretty.” The little things help, she said, and Lyons hopes providing a bag full of things that just might help will bring a moment of relief here or brighten a day there.
Donations and daily deliveries
Lyons announced the start of the campaign on July 21 and two days later the packages started arriving at the door.
“Since it started, every single day we’ve probably gotten at least 20 packages, at least. And some days it’s even closer to like 40,” she said. “At this point I’ve probably made almost 70 care packages and they include, like, really nice things. People have been so generous.”
The Amazon delivery vans began stopping three times a day, leaving multiple packages at each stop. It got to the point Jenna thought she owed the drivers an explanation… and some snacks and refreshments.
“I’ve been leaving a cooler out front with a sign that says, ‘we’re making care packages for chemo patients. Please take as many drinks as you’d like. You’ll probably be here a lot.’
“It’s amazing, so it’ll be like first thing in the morning and then around noon time and then again at night. So it’s usually like three stops, maybe more, sometimes more, but at least three deliveries a day.”
Aside from her own experiences, Lyons, who grew up in Swansea and worked as a neo-natal nurse at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, reached out to co-workers, friends and her fairly impressive crowd of social media followers — she’s got about 100,000 followers on TikTok — for suggestions for the list.
And it’s quite a list. Lyons says between some large donations and many more small donations, it’s starting to pile up and she’s been able to assemble “a wagon full” of care packages to deliver to Mass General Hospital during her next treatment on Aug. 6.
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In all, she’s arranged to deliver the care packages to five area treatments centers between Boston and Providence.
In April 2019, Lyons was diagnosed with stage 1B breast cancer. It was thought that doctors caught it early, but she did some digging of her own and it turned out to be a bit more complicated than the initial findings, she suspected.
“Originally, I found a tiny tumor. It turned out to be four tumors, but still, they said it was small enough that I would just need a mastectomy and I’d be done. No radiation, nothing,” Lyons said.
“But three months later I was at work and I went to my chart and I saw that they had gotten it wrong. And I knew enough, because I had done enough research that I knew that I should have been getting chemotherapy months before.”
She checked in with her doctors soon after, and they confirmed Lyons’ concerns.
She was treated with a three-month course of chemotherapy late in 2019 and then another full-year course through 2020. She started the new year on a positive note, but late in 2021 during an appointment with an orthopedist for her continuing back and hip pain it was discovered the cancer had metastasized, significantly.
After months of negative scans and failing to identify the source of the back and hip pain, and nearly another miss as the orthopedist was about to prescribe a few weeks of physical therapy, the doctor ordered an MRI after watching Jenna getting up and walking out of the exam room at what they all assumed was the conclusion of the appointment.
“When he saw me walk on my way out of the office he was like “wait a second? Is that how you’re always walking?” I was, like “yeah, I told you, I’m limping, it’s not OK, it’s excruciating pain.’
“And so they did an MRI and I was covered in cancer. Most of it was in my pelvis and my hips and my low back, but all up my vertebrae to my neck, and then I had broken bones — my tailbone, random places in my back and then also my ribs and my collarbone… so the cancer is like pretty much everywhere from my neck to my pelvis.”
It was shocking news, but really, no surprise to Lyons.
“I thought I was good, but I always had a bad feeling because of the three months where I wasn’t getting chemo and I knew the cancer cells were just floating around my body and I always kind of knew it was gonna come back, even though everyone was like ‘you’re fine, you’re fine.’”
Focused on family
Today, Jenna is living with and treating stage 4 breast cancer, but is focused squarely on spending time with her family: her husband, Coley, and three boys, Colton, 11, Connor, 9, and Finn, 6. They just finished summer baseball this week and headed out for a short family vacation on Monday.
Soon it will be time for football.
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Jenna says The Little Things: Jenna’s Wish List care package collection will continue for the foreseeable future and hopefully grow and become something permanent that cancer patients can count on for years to come.
“I mean, I’ll never be cured of this. It’s terminal, incurable and I don’t know how many years I have, but I just feel like this happened to me because, I don’t know, because I am the kind of person I am and I want to give something back.
“I also want to show my kids, you know, how to be a good person and that’s a lot of it too. I want them to see, you know, don’t let things just take you down. Some good can come of it one way or another.”
A Go Fund Me page, Team Jenna’s Breast Cancer Battle, has been set up to benefit the Lyons family.