According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 4 people with cancer experience feelings of depression. But one local cancer survivor is using her Cajun roots and support system to change that statistic, one joyful tote bag at a time.
Kari “Kiki” Bergeron was diagnosed with breast cancer at Woman’s Hospital on July 27, 2016. From the moment she got her diagnosis, Kiki was overwhelmed by the love and support she received from her friends and family. The active mother of three never found herself worrying about cooking a meal or gathering supplies while going through chemo because her village took charge. However, she quickly noticed that not everyone with similar diagnoses was as fortunate.
“Chemo takes a toll on you, both physically and mentally,” Kiki said. “And when my husband, Chris, and I went in for my treatments we saw so many people at the infusion center going through treatments alone. They were waiting for rides, sitting alone, or otherwise unsupported. It bothered us greatly.”
When Kiki’s friends, Kerry Capron and Amanda LeBlanc, asked to do something in her honor in October 2017 for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she suggested they create chemo care bags for other patients undergoing treatment instead.
So they did, and Totes de Joie was born.
What started out as scraping together supplies on a kitchen table has grown into a successful nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing cancer patients comfort and joy. Since 2017, they have delivered over 500 bags to cancer patients undergoing chemo treatment in the Baton Rouge Area. These “totes of joy” include everything from practical items like unscented hand lotion and kleenex to inspirational items like prayer cards and hand-written notes of encouragement.
“We know this isn’t anything groundbreaking,” Kiki explains. “But a cancer diagnosis is difficult and scary, so when you are going through something like this, a little bit of joy can go a long way. We want the patients to know that they are not alone and that we are praying for them daily.”
And the founders of Totes de Joie believe this is just the beginning. Their ultimate goal for the organization is to give every cancer patient going through chemo at the Breast and GYN Cancer Pavilion and Mary Bird Perkins a care package during their cancer treatment. This is why they deliver their totes directly to the hospitals – so they can be distributed directly to patients in the infusion centers.
“With COVID-19 restrictions, our mission is more important than ever before, as so many patients are getting treatment alone. We hope our care packages make the patients feel loved and supported. Our only mission is to put a smile on their faces and bring them joy! Just last week we received a couple of emails from patients who said thank you for the tote bags. It was a full circle moment for me.”
Learn more about Totes de Joie and how you can help them spread joy to more local cancer patients by visiting the organization’s Facebook or Instagram page.
You can also donate to Woman’s and help support women fighting cancer at womans.org/giving.