Since starting as a Daisy scout at the tender age of 5, 14-year-old Emily Gilmore has worked her way through the many levels Girl Scouts offers, earning numerous badges along the way. But, as a Cadette, she hoped to take it a step further — she wanted a Silver Award, the highest recognition a Cadette can earn. According to girlscouts.org, the award requires the scout to oversee a major project — develop the idea, make a plan and then put it into motion. And, most important, it has to focus on an issue the scout cares about and could make a difference.
In 2017, Emily’s mother, Charmian Leslie-Hughes, had been diagnosed with breast cancer and, over the course of 17 months of treatment, Emily had watched her mother successfully battle the disease. She recalled all her mother went through — the chemotherapy that made her feel cold, the times of uncertainty, anxiety and worry — and her project focus became clear. She would create gift baskets for patients in Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center to keep up their spirits, much like the “care packages” her mother received during her treatment there.
A Positive Impact on Patients
Once Emily decided on the project’s focus — and received approval from the Girl Scouts — she and her mom met with Sandy Blackburn, MSW, social worker in the ACC Patient & Family Services, to discuss what kind of gift baskets she could create that would both meet the Girl Scout’s project requirements as well as provide comfort to patients. Even at her young age, “Emily impressed me with her maturity and earnestness in our discussion of potential projects,” Blackburn said. “I knew that whatever project she chose, it would have a positive impact on our patients.”
Armed with suggestions, Emily started working on the project. Leslie-Hughes said Emily was responsible for pulling together the entire project, from coming up with the idea to raising money to purchase all the materials and writing a detailed report about everything she had done and the outcome.
Emily decided to make small fleece lap blankets to keep patients warm while undergoing chemo. As part of the care packages Leslie-Hughes had received during her treatment was a blanket, with a note stating it was “80,000 stitches of hugs, love, warmth, and healing energy. This is what will get you through.” She wanted to help others as people had helped her mom.
Choosing a no-sew approach, she had to first pre-cut slits at one-inch intervals around both upper and lower layers of each blanket. Then, with the help of several scouts and friends, Emily knotted the strips to tie the two layers together. It took three days to do all 22 blankets!
Emily filled her gift baskets with a wide variety of “fun things to do while waiting or things that would bring patients joy,” she said, like crossword puzzle books and a tile that said “This is a good day to have a great day.” Emily also included a four-leaf clover (“My sister is very good at finding them!”) that she flattened, laminated and put on a magnet; a rose quartz small “worry stone” a patient can rub when feeling anxious or scared; and a card with a picture stenciled on front and the words “Courageous” or “Brave” written inside. And she made sure the items were gender neutral, so they could be given to any patient. “She put a lot of thought into it,” Leslie-Hughes said.
When Emily and her mom delivered the donations, Blackburn was taken aback by everything she saw. “This is everything we asked for and so much more,” she said. “We are so grateful to Emily and her family for thinking of our patients and giving back in this exceptional way.”
Blackburn said that “chemo companions” — cancer survivors who visit patients in the infusion suite — will distribute these special care packages “when they encounter a patient who could use a bright spot in their day.”
As it turned out, the project not only received the Silver Award Emily sought but also helped her find the closure she needed to finally come to grips with her mother’s illness. Read more of Emily’s story — and the impact a parent’s serious illness can have on children — at https://www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-blog/2020/january/when-it-comes-to-a-parents-serious-illness-kids-need-to-know.