Having cancer was a nightmare but making a difference in the lives of others during their journey is a dream come true. I am Leigh Ann Brooks and I am a breast cancer survivor and co-founder of the Peppermint Giggles Project.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of 2015. I underwent a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction and revision. In June of 2016, I discovered a small lump that my doctors’ thought was leftover scar tissue from my surgery. I decided to have it biopsied anyway and learned it was not scar tissue, but cancer again. My doctors suspect it was so small during my first surgery that it was simply missed. However, because that could not be proven, it had to be treated as a recurrence. Since it was a recurrence within a year, it was recommended I undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Over the course of the next six months I had eight chemotherapy treatments, 33 rounds of radiation and a total of eight surgeries from beginning to end. Not only was that overwhelming, but I was at the same time I was coping with the loss of my breasts, my hair, my active lifestyle, my energy and my self-esteem. I was off work for a total of eight months. Life not only changed for me, but also for my husband, my children, my sister and my parents. Everyone dropped what they were doing to support our family. Friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers provided meals, words of encouragement, comfort items and prayers.
I would be remiss if I did not also mention my faith as a HUGE part of what helped me through this time. Phillippians 4:13… “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. This verse was sent to me by a dear friend every morning that I had chemo. Her text was a reminder to me that I am a child of God, he has a plan and I need to trust in him. Faith and worry cannot exist together.
Prior to my mastectomy surgery my pastor came to pray with me. I was scared and I was worrying. He told me it was going to be ok. In fact, it was going to be a great day because I was going to wake up and the tumor would be gone. When I asked him what would happen if I didn’t wake up, he replied, “Then you will get to meet God! Either way it is going to be a great day for you!” His words grew my faith in that moment. God did indeed have a plan for me. As it turns out he was NOT ready to meet me on July 6, 2015. His plan was for me to survive so I could be here today to help others through their journey.
During my journey, I was so blessed with support. I had a family and friends sitting with me during chemo treatments every single time. My email and social media accounts were flooded with thoughts, prayer, uplifting quotes, funny memes and videos. My dear friend Kim, who was also a breast cancer survivor, sat with me during each chemo treatment. She made sure to distract me by bringing funny movies to my treatments. These treatments are long and grueling. I would be there for at least 6 hours each time. She helped me through by suggesting I try items that she found helpful during her chemo treatments. She told me to try plastic utensils when the medication left a metallic taste in my mouth. She made sure I had soothing mouthwash for the sores in my mouth that developed. She made sure I had hand sanitizer to prevent infections while my immune system was struggling. I quickly learned that when the nurse would access and flush my port, I would get a terrible taste in my mouth. I discovered peppermints were a must before that procedure. Between the two of us, we developed a list of over 40 items that were a must to survive the chemo treatments.
As we sat together during my treatments with my mom, my sister and my husband. We noticed we took up a lot of space. The nurse would trip over our bags, blankets and our feet. She never complained though because we were laughing, giggling, playing cards and watching movies. Many nurses would comment how lucky I was to have such great support. As we looked around, we noticed that not everyone had this kind of support and certainly not everyone was laughing through their chemo treatment. Many of the patients in the chemo room had no one with them during their treatments. Not only did they not have anyone who brought them funny movies to make them giggle, but they didn’t even have anyone to talk to during their treatment.
It was during one of my treatments, that Kim and I decided when I was well again, she and I needed to somehow provide kits to those who would be undergoing chemotherapy. We knew everyone needed support and we wanted to provide them some of the 40 plus items that helped us survive chemo. As a result, two years later we formed a non-profit organization that we titled the Peppermint Giggles Project. When you know our story, the name makes sense. Peppermints and Giggles are two of the must haves to survive chemotherapy.
Over the course of the past two years we have done fundraising and supply drives to make sure that we are able to provide kits to patients. Each kit is valued at approximately $120. We gift the kits to patients with no charge. We have provided over 100 kits in the past two years and have never had to turn down a request. We have developed a website with information for supporting patients as well as a portal for individuals to request a kit or donate to our organization.
We were planning our first big fundraising event in 2020 when the pandemic hit. Currently, we are still depending on supply drives and individual donations to provide the items and funding for the kits. In addition, we are actively pursing grants and corporate sponsorships to continue to provide funding for the kits. Our kits are available by request, but our long-term goal is that patients would not have to request a kit. Our goal is to have the funding to provide a kit for each person starting chemotherapy treatments at our local hospitals and cancer centers.