By Brandon Gillet
University of Ottawa nursing student Natania Abebe has teamed up with Faculty of Science graduate Nathan Adolphe and Carleton University student Noah Severino to launch a charity that delivers messages of hope to children undergoing cancer treatment.
The Stars in a Jar concept is simple: Childhood cancer survivors come up with as many inspirational messages as they can for a child currently undergoing treatment. Volunteers write these messages on colourful strips of paper that they fold into origami stars and place in a jar. A star might also contain a web address leading to a personal video message.
Once a jar is full of stars, it is ready to be delivered to a child being treated for cancer at a hospital like the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). Each child who requests one will receive their own jar of heartfelt notes from someone who knows from experience what they are going through.
Abebe, who has volunteered for many years in CHEO’s oncology department, found that she had difficulty relating to children undergoing cancer treatment, not having experienced cancer herself.
“There was a clear divide between the health care staff and patients. However, I saw that when the patients were together, they got a lot of support from each other,” she says.
Having done origami as a hobby, Abebe came up with the idea for Stars in a Jar. And drawing on what she observed at CHEO, she realized the messages would have much more impact if they came from survivors.
“In Japanese culture, origami stars represent a gesture of good luck. Of course, there’s the cute factor of opening a star, but it’s also about the sentiment inside, instilling hope and courage.”
Abebe got in touch with Adolphe, who had spoken to one of her classes about his experience of having had cancer as a child. Together with Severino, also a childhood cancer survivor, they have formed the charity and set up campus clubs at uOttawa and Carleton to support the initiative. Stars in a Jar officially launches on May 8, when requests for jars can be submitted through its website.
Adolphe, who now works as a research assistant at CHEO recruiting participants for outpatient clinical trials, said getting the charity off the ground has been “a slow-moving process,” because all three have been working on it in their spare time.
“But the most amazing thing we’ve done so far,” he says, “is to gather this group of childhood cancer survivors who we are now communicating with. As soon as they heard about our idea, they became just as excited as we are and eager to help in any way they can. In the end, it’s about bringing everyone together and, so far, that’s what we’ve done.”
The jar of messages Adolphe has produced contains reflections on his own experience. (He also reaches out in a video message, telling a joke that has nothing to do with cancer.)
One message says, “During treatment I tried to keep everything inside so that I didn’t burden others with my worries. Know that it’s OK to tell others when you’re sad or scared. It helps.”
Another says, “I got my second tumour diagnosis through a phone call when I was at school. I didn’t know what to do and got really scared. But I remembered that my friends are always there to help. I told a friend what happened, and we left class to get some ice cream. That was a good day.”
For students who want to help out, Stars in a Jar volunteer hours qualify for their Co-Curricular Record through the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement. (Abebe was the Centre’s October 2016 Volunteer of the Month and will graduate in June with about 1,000 volunteer hours.)
Stars in a Jar will have a booth at the Faculty of Medicine's Shave for A Cure, which takes places on the evening of May 8 in Roger Guindon Hall atrium. The annual event raises money for Childhood Cancer Canada and pediatric cancer research.