For the past five years, Lake Mary resident and cancer survivor Lisa Desjardins has been delivering bags filled with special comfort items to local cancer patients. She hopes that her sentiment will bring patients hope and happiness during an otherwise dark and uncertain time.
This October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, a month that is near and dear to the hearts of so many including Lake Mary resident and Woodlands Elementary teacher Lisa Desjardins. Last January we shared how Lisa's battle with cancer inspired her to bring joy to others who are going through cancer treatment.
Now five years cancer free, Lisa just kicked off another year of her Strength and Sunshine fundraiser. She and her team of volunteers will spend the next few months fundraising in order to purchase and fill care bags that they'll deliver to men, women, and children across Central Florida who are battling all types of cancer.
Thank you for making a difference, Lisa! Read more of Lisa’s story below.
This story was published in our January/February 2018 issues.
For the past four years, Lake Mary resident and cancer survivor Lisa Desjardins has been delivering bags filled with special comfort items to local cancer patients. She hopes that her sentiment will bring patients hope and happiness during an otherwise dark and uncertain time.
The passion to help others is very personal to Lisa. When she was two years old, Lisa’s mother Jeanette Gudenkauf, age 40 at the time, was diagnosed with breast cancer. After undergoing a mastectomy and being cancer-free for 19 years, Jeanette was diagnosed with bone cancer. Lisa was 22 years old when her mother passed away.
Although Lisa had never missed a doctor’s appointment and was extremely proactive about her own health screenings, her life was affected by cancer once again.
“I was always very diligent about getting my mammogram,” says Lisa. “I even had the BRCA gene testing done before I had my second child to see if I carried the gene to get breast cancer, which came up negative.”
However, three months after a mammogram in 2013, she felt a lump.
“One ultrasound led to another, and there I was, 40 years old, with a two-year-old of my own, facing breast cancer just like my mom did,” says Lisa, who then underwent a bilateral mastectomy and numerous reconstructive surgeries.
During Lisa’s surgeries and treatments, she and her family lived in Fairfax, Virginia, for her husband’s job.
“I did not know many people, but my neighbors and community came out to help me in any way possible,” Lisa recalls. “It was amazing; all the love and support I felt from people near and far. I will never forget that feeling of being surrounded by love by even complete strangers at one of my darkest times.”
Three months after her final surgery, Lisa was inspired to do something to give back and support other women with breast cancer. She organized a Treats for Teachers fundraiser when she was a kindergarten teacher in Virginia.
“I worked at a small school and decided to bring in treats every day,” Lisa explains. “My hope was to have coworkers donate money for others going through cancer treatment.”
Lisa used the funds to make care bags. She started out making mastectomy pillows and ordering mastectomy drain belts from another cancer survivor who made them. Everything was donated to the local hospital in Virginia.
In 2014, when Lisa and her family moved back to Seminole County, she was hired to teach kindergarten at Woodlands Elementary School and continued her Treats for Teachers fundraiser every October.
“The first year we raised $700, the next $1,200, and this year $2,500 – I am over-the-moon excited,” says Lisa, who this year made more than 100 bags filled with blankets, coloring books, markers, lip gloss treats, mastectomy pillows, and various inspirational items. The fundraiser itself has gained the support of many local businesses.
Today, Lisa’s original plan to help women with breast cancer has extended to helping women, men, and children of all ages who are experiencing some type of cancer. Along the way, Lisa decided to give her passion a name: Strength and Sunshine Cancer Care Bags.
With the help of her sons Cole (now 11) and Drew (6), and several family and teacher friends, Lisa packs and delivers her bags to cancer surgeons and local chemotherapy centers.
Ultimately, Lisa just wants to bring a little joy to those who are dealing with the worst.
“I want to brighten the day for those who are sitting there receiving chemo treatments or preparing for another surgery,” she says.
To learn more about Strength and Sunshine Cancer Care Bags, check out their Facebook page.
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