Shock. Confusion. Anger. Fear. The list goes on with how people might respond when they discover they have cancer. It’s hard to avoid thinking of worst-case scenarios when the months ahead look long, bleak and uncertain. It’s hard when they know that their bodies aren’t protecting them the way they should. What’s even scarier is when it happens to a kid.
Cancer isn’t just a disease. It isn’t just a clump of abnormal cells multiplying and spreading and sometimes hiding just beneath the surface. It’s dreading the poke of a needle and the flood of chemicals that will hurt before they will help.
Chemotherapy isn’t a miracle drug. Scientists work countless hours searching for an alternative, there is at least one group that tries to alleviate the worries of kids fighting through the pain. Along with her family, Jordan Lopez-Rhodes, a sophomore majoring in health sciences with a focus on pre-med, established her own non-profit organization called J.A.K.S. that creates and delivers care kits for kids going through chemo.
“Our goal is to be uplifting to these kids and their families,” Lopez-Rhodes said.
In these kits, J.A.K.S. includes lotions, hand sanitizers, notebooks, pens and comfort items like fleece blankets. Lemonheads, Ring Pops, and peppermints are to help with dry mouth, which is a side-effect from their treatments.
“Based on the age and sex of the kid, we give them activity books to give them something to do while they’re getting chemo,” Lopez-Rhodes said.
J.A.K.S. is an acronym combining the names of the Lopez-Rhodes clan: Jordan and her sisters, Amaia and Kennedy, and their mother, Sefra. The idea for this organization came to them in the summer of 2014.
“My mom wanted me and the girls to have a summer activity so we started it,” Lopez-Rhodes said. “It was going to be small; we were going to do 50 for our local cancer center, but the community ended up donating enough items to do 80, so it was a success right off the bat.”
That original success kicked off their “careers” as care kit creators.
“We saw that people were trying to steal our name, so we were like, ‘We should probably go make this officia,'” Lopez-Rhodes said.
Not that the catching trend was frowned upon, of course. Since their official establishment in 2016, Lopez-Rhodes has been trying to expand their non-profit by talking to organizations at Sam Houston and getting them involved. Already she has reached out to the Sam Houston Association of Medically Oriented Students (S.H.A.M.O.S.) and the Alpha Lambda Delta National Honor Society (ALD).
Each group does what it can to help, like how ALD has done a little tabling to collect change and donations in the SHSU mall area over the past couple weeks, but Lopez-Rhodes hopes to broaden her horizons more than that.
“It’s not that the community doesn’t want to help – the community is always willing to help – it’s just getting the word out,” Lopez-Rhodes said. “I want to expand so much so that it can be almost a Sam Houston thing – like we could get the [Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum] to open a drive for all of Huntsville or get Walker County to set up something for donations, and we’ll assemble and distribute.”
Each year so far, J.A.K.S. has exceeded its goals; since 2014, this four-person team has distributed between 600 and 700 care kits to Texas Children’s, M.D. Anderson, and to a Bryan-College Station cancer center.
Supporting cancer patients’ ongoing battles is one thing, but watching children suffer the same atrocities makes those around them feel truly helpless, which is one reason why these women are so passionate about bringing just a little bit of light back into their eyes.
“This is what I want to do with my life,” Lopez-Rhodes said. “I want to be a pediatric oncologist.”
Already she has made a habit of jump-starting her dreams. Outside of her time and energy devoted to the kids associated with J.A.K.S., she works at a cancer research lab at Texas A&M, which received a grant for the study of a specific transcription factor that affects the early progression of breast tumors.
Most of the care kits she puts together are categorized into four different groups: 11 years old and younger for boys and girls, and twelve years old and older for boys and girls. These kits are fairly standard in regards to what is inside because most kids going through chemo are susceptible to the same symptoms, but sometimes Lopez-Rhodes and her family get emails from parents asking for personalized kits. Those might include journals in the kids’ favorite colors, blankets decorated with their favorite patterns or characters, or an item that helps with symptoms specific to their cancer.
Requests and donations come in person, through email and over their organization’s Facebook pages.
“On our Facebook page, we have a donation button that gives you the sum of how much a kit would cost, and some students will donate five dollars and that will buy three items,” Lopez-Rhodes said. “It’s very affordable; whatever you can give, we’ll take and spread every dollar.”