After finding a care package left by another patient on her hospital bed as she underwent grueling cancer treatment, Sonia Su, of Columbia, made a promise that when she got better she would pay the kindness forward.
Su was diagnosed with an aggressive type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 24. Following successful treatments, she earned a master’s degree from Georgetown University and founded Kits to Heart, a nonprofit organization that distributes cancer care kits to patients.
Su recently turned 30 and is celebrating a number of milestones — the four-year anniversary of receiving a third line of cancer immunotherapy treatment that saved her life, the birth of her son and Kits to Heart surpassing the distribution of 5,000 cancer care kits since its inception in May 2020.
Su said the kits bring hope to those battling cancer.
“When I was being admitted for my third line therapy after having failed two other lines of treatment, I saw a care package that was on my bed, and it turns out it was from a former patient who was treated in that very unit,” she said. “Just seeing that care package, especially at the lowest point of my treatment, it just gave me a lot of hope and inspired me to pay that kindness forward.”
Kits to Heart distributes thoughtfully designed, curated cancer care kits to cancer centers, hospitals and patients across the county, state and country.
Funded by donations and grants, the organization relies on community contributions to support its mission of encouraging those affected by cancer.
Since its launch, it has shipped 2,252 kits to all 50 states and delivered 2,758 kits and more than 900 blankets to locations in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, including ChristianaCare’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center and Research Institute, the Claudia Mayer/Tina Broccolino Cancer Resource Center at Howard County General Hospital, Virginia Cancer Specialists and the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Containing practical items such as face masks and hand sanitizer, as well as comforts such as crocheted or knitted hats and scarves and encouraging letters written by volunteers, the kits aim to holistically care for patients and alleviate anxiety and stress.
In nearly three years, more than 3,700 people and groups have volunteered to contribute more than 45,000 service hours to Kits to Heart.
Sanjana Jain, 17, of Clarksville, who serves as a volunteer with the organization, said she wanted to get involved because her paternal grandfather died of liver cancer.
She said she hopes the kits encourage those fighting cancer.
“I [hope] that the person receiving the kit knows that there’s a group of people who stand behind them even though they may not know the other people,” she said. “Just the community coming together to do this project should be uplifting for anyone who receives a kit and I think anyone who receives a kit understands the impact and power behind the message and organization.”
To express their gratitude, patients often write letters to the organization. One letter, shared on the group’s website, says, “I received my sweet care package today, and I wanted to say thank you so much for all the thoughtful gifts inside. It made my day. It’s so nice to know that someone would do that for me. May God continue to bless you all and what you do. From the bottom of my heart you will never know what it meant to me! Love to you all.”
For more information on Kits to Heart, visit kitstoheart.org.