Baskets for comfort

The hope is in the basket.

Filled to the brim with bandanas, coffee mugs, tissues and mints. Gum, magazines, books and knit hats. Even chap stick.

Whatever it is that a cancer patient may need while undergoing arduous treatments and procedures.

Cherry Hill resident Jaime Rossano battled cancer in her mid-20s.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 27,” said Rossano.

She underwent a bi-lateral mastectomy, followed by six months of chemotherapy radiation and two reconstruction surgeries.

On her program’s website, www.cancersecretangelproject.org, she shared her story.

“I was diagnosed with Stage 2B Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I then proceeded to chemotherapy for the following six months. I experienced every side-effect known to all the drugs that I received,” she wrote. “I had four treatments of FEC and four treatments of Taxotere. I have to say these were the darkest days of my life. I finished my last chemotherapy treatment on June 12, 2011, followed by 28 radiation treatments which left my skin burned, blistered and permanently tan.”

Rossano has a 3 ½ year-old son and has been married for 4 ½ years.

Cancer, she said, has been the toughest battle she’s encountered.

“It was really difficult. It was a shock. It was a surprise. I wasn’t sure how things were going to change,” she explained, or how she would survive.

But she did.

The now 29-year-old began the project in November of 2011.

“During my battle, I found certain things that were very useful,” she explained, and developed the idea.

So far, 515 free baskets have been crafted from donations.

“Anybody can participate and donate,” she said. “We have basket parties and we deliver baskets to cancer patients.”

Area residents that lend a hand are deemed angels.

“Those who help you through such a trying time are considered angels,” she said. “There’s no other word for them.”

Plus, Rossano brings her son along in the basket process as a learning experience.

“I also find it very important to teach my son about community and helping others in need. He usually comes with me and carries the basket to the porches of those baskets that I do deliver. He gets so excited like a kid at Christmas,” she said, adding, “He knows that we make baskets for people who are sick with cancer. I have tried to keep my son completely involved in my journey with cancer and now with helping others.”

For a basket party, the host invites a group of their friends. Each person brings a bag of items to contribute. The group comes together as a team to separate the gifts and build the baskets.

“They’re not little. They’re a pretty decent size,” explained Rossano. “There’s a lot that goes into them.”

Project participants deliver to area cancer treatment centers, including Virtua Hospital in Mt. Holly and Voorhees.

“The rest have been requests,” she said, from somebody who knows a cancer patient.

There is no set group of members, either, she explained.

“It’s different people every time,” she said. “It’s been great meeting people.”

When she throws a party, usually close friends and family members join, but depending on the host, the items and demographics change.

Requests or referrals are accepted.

The goal, she explained, is the simple act of a grin.

“I hope it just makes them smile for a few minutes while they’re going through the basket to actually forget about the disease for a minute,” said Rossano.

How to help

Visit www.cancerssecretangelproject.org to read more of Jaime’s story, to learn how to donate or to read about the basket party concept. Visit the project’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cancers-Secret-Angel-Project/298493440174406.