Karyn Fairbanks, founder of It Is Well Cancer Care makes care bags for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Photo contributed.
Written by Breanna Hardy
One Fresno woman is using her experience to help cancer patients acclimate when beginning their own chemotherapy treatment.
Founder Karyn Fairbanks started It is Well Cancer Care in August 2020 with just Facebook and Instagram pages. Since battling stage-four ovarian cancer, Fairbanks has had a stretch of over two years of good health, she said. In that time, she has founded an organization that helps new cancer patients feel comforted as they begin treatment. And now, she sends chemo-care bags to patients like one she received during her treatment.
“I had a stranger give me a bag with a soft, pretty blanket,” Fairbanks said. “We really felt like we weren’t starting this journey by ourselves.”
She wanted to give that same gift to new cancer patients, and decided to fill up bags of items to accommodate their needs. Many patients develop mouth sores as a side effect of chemotherapy, so some items are aimed to treat those ailments.
“I sipped on cold, frozen drinks while in treatment and it prevented mouth sores,” she said.
She builds the bags with gifts patients might not think they need.
Staying hydrated is key to flushing toxins, and a journal can be used to process thoughts and feelings or write down medical information. Bags are filled with Jamba Juice gift cards, blankets, reusable water bottles, tissue packs, ginger chews, lotion and throat lozenges.
“You sit in a chair all day sometimes and they give you a hospital blanket, but having a pretty, cozier blanket from home is comforting,” she said.
People began hearing about what Fairbanks was doing through word-of-mouth. As Fairbanks shopped for comfort items, people began sending money. Items began showing up on her porch, she said. With those items, she was able to build 53 bags.
She said cancer is not only tough on the person experiencing the disease, but also on family and friends.
Even before Fairbanks was diagnosed with cancer, It is Well was a hymn she clung to – even more so through her battle with cancer. The nonprofit’s namesake comes from her love of the hymn and her faith.
She operates primarily through Instagram, but Fairbanks found a business with a physical footprint to partner with. Lauren Hoekstra, owner of boutique fitness studio The Bar Method in Fresno, has partnered with Fairbanks to serve as a donation site for care items.
Fairbanks is starting to contact cancer centers to reach out for partnerships as well.
“I have just been looking for an organization to partner with as a business, and it just felt like it was the right fit,” Hoekstra said.
It’s especially personal to her because she has watched Fairbanks battle cancer firsthand as they met in the same church small group.
“I just love what she’s doing and I feel like it’s a really niche organization the way that she’s making the chemo-care kits and just supporting patients on all levels,” Hoekstra said.
“It’s still important to serve others. In our culture, we think about ourselves and there’s a lot of inward reflection,” she added.
But Hoekstra said generosity should be front and center after doing business in survival mode for the past year – and making it on the other side.
“After going through Covid and experiencing that struggle I just felt compelled to find an organization to give back to the community,” she said.
In the future, Fairbanks said, “I would love to have opportunities to have volunteers…everyone is touched by cancer in some way.”
Fairbanks is working on establishing official nonprofit status, and until she gets a website up and running, donations and inquiries can go through the Instagram page, @itiswellcancercare.
She hopes to make fellow cancer fighters feel that they’re not alone.