by Sue Ann Rybak
When you are sick, sometimes the simplest things can make a huge difference. Whether it’s a greeting card, a warm fuzzy blanket, a teddy bear or even a hug, just knowing that someone cares about you can make you feel better and give you hope.
And that’s why Lisa’s Army, a nonprofit organization based in Lafayette Hill and dedicated to providing comfort to cancer patients, is holding their second annual Pumpkins in the Park 5K Run/Walk on Saturday, Oct. 10, 8:30 a.m., near the Please Touch Museum at Memorial Hall, 4231 Avenue of the Republic.
Lisa’s Army delivers personalized Comfort Care Packages to patients currently fighting cancer. The care packages are filled with an inspirational card, personal care items, an Apple iPad or BEATs Headphones, iTunes gift card, journals, pens and other items to make the patients treatment as comfortable as possible.
The nonprofit was founded by friends and family in memory of Lisa Loonstyn-Golden, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 20 and passed away in May, 2012.
Marie Loonstyn, executive director of Lisa’s Army, said her daughter’s favorite holiday was Halloween, and her nickname was “Pumpkin.” She said this year’s event will include pumpkin decorating, costume contests, fundraising competitions and a photo stand.
William “Billy” Loonstyn, Lisa’s father, said while most medical-related nonprofits focus on raising funds for research or preventing diseases, Lisa’s Army is committed to providing support and healing to all cancer patients.
“When Lisa passed, we found a diary that she created, and in it she wrote that she wanted us to focus more on the battle that the person was going through and their daily struggle in dealing with chemo and being sick constantly,” he said. “She thought there were enough organizations out there that were focusing on research and prevention.
“Lisa never had to face things alone, even from the smallest things. Lisa knew she wasn’t the only one battling cancer, and I think that helped her get through it a little more. She was always genuinely concerned with how someone else was doing.”
Lisa’s mother said her daughter always had someone with her, whether she was at treatment or just at home. “When you are sick, you don’t realize how much help you need,” she said. “Most people don’t realize how much they do in their daily grind until something happens. Lisa always worried about everybody else because she knew her support group was so big. Lisa wanted to make sure they (other cancer patients) had someone there and that they were comfortable. ‘Did Mrs. June have her coffee? Did Mr. Smith has his book?’”
JoAnne Rufo, Lisa’s social worker at Fox Chase Cancer Center, said Lisa was blessed to have such a strong network of support. “The name of the organization is NOT a joke,” she added. “Lisa often saw people in the infusion room who didn’t have that support, or it was sporadic support … She didn’t let the disease stop her from enjoying spending time with her finance and young son, but she acknowledged the toll it took on her body and how crummy it made her feel.”
Lisa’s father Bill Loonstyn described his daughter as “the personification of compassion and courage.”
The care packages distributed by Lisa’s Army contain items Lisa herself carried to her treatments.
“Each of these packages is worth approximately $600 but is priceless to the recipient,” said Lisa’s mother. “We delivered over 180 Comfort Care Packages in 2014 alone. Lisa loved the iPad because she could facetime with her son, Michael, who was born between her first diagnosis and her cancer recurrence in 2010.”
Lisa’s Army drops comfort care packages off at Fox Chase Cancer Center and Cancer Center of America, both in Northeast Philadelphia. Cancer patients can also be nominated to receive a comfort care package at lisasarmy.org/nominate/.
King of Prussia resident Kelly Gomes, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in June, 2014, at the age of 27, received a Lisa’s Army Comfort Care Package after being nominated by her twin sister, Lisa. Gomes, a single parent, recalled how she felt after receiving the bag. “I was in the hospital for a week after the surgery because I wasn’t reacting well to the pain medication,” she said. “When I was finally home, getting back to a daily routine was very difficult because of the amount of pain and discomfort I was in.
“Two members of Lisa’s Army knocked on my door and hand-delivered the package. The bag was handmade and filled with thoughtful items to comfort me on my road to recovery, including crossword puzzles, cozy socks, queasy pops (which really helped during chemo!), a notepad, t-shirt for my son, a hair elastic that said ‘Lisa’s Army’ on it and an iPad. As I unwrapped the package and went through its contents, I felt so touched that I started to cry. There was a card inside with an image on the front that Lisa had drawn when she was 10. Inside was a message that read ‘Please remember that you have an Army behind you that cares about you.’”
Scott Ruppert’s son, Riley, 7, who has an inoperable brain tumor, also received a Comfort Care Package from Lisa’s Army. Ruppert said his family was in a state of shock when they learned he had a brain tumor. “Things seemed to start moving at warp speed regarding his care,” he said. “We would wake up in the morning and have to check the calendar to see where and when we needed to be that day because it was overwhelming.”
Riley recently started a weekly chemotherapy regimen that will last for one year. “We really did not know what to bring with us to Riley’s treatments, but Lisa’s Army knew,” Ruppert said, adding that he was surprised that the care package included an iPad. He said Riley takes his iPad every week to his chemo treatments and uses it “to keep up with some of his reading and math work from school. The Comfort Care Package from Lisa’s Army is a bright spot in our life with everything else that is going on. Here are a group of people who we have never met before, but they are sending our son things that will make his journey through this more comfortable. It was a comfort to us that so many people cared.”
For more information about the 5K Run/Walk or about Lisa’s Army, visit www.lisasarmy.org.