Power of Giving Back

Thomas Jackson profile photo

The health benefits of practicing gratitude are many. According to The University of Vermont Medical Center oncologist Kim Dittus, MD, PhD, it improves emotional resilience, decreases stress and depression and lowers stress hormone (cortisol) levels as well as blood pressure levels.

UVM Children’s Hospital child psychiatrist, Andrew Rosenfield, MD, has written that gratitude is linked with increases in other positive emotions like happiness, hope and pride. It correlates with higher self-esteem and more generous behavior, as well as stronger relationships. It’s even associated with reduced stress and depression.

To keep the health benefits of gratitude going throughout the year, try something simple like offering a sincere thank you to someone every day, keeping a gratitude journal or sharing what you are grateful for at the dinner table. Or, try these three exercises.

The stories below shows that gratitude make others – and yourself – feel good!

With Profound Appreciation, Thomas

Thomas Jackson suffered a massive seizure due to a brain tumor he didn’t even know was there. He arrived at The University of Vermont Medical Center Emergency Department unconscious. Jackson's road to recovery was difficult and he was so thankful to staff for the care he received that he wrote this letter thanking them, describing in detail all the things that helped him through the most difficult time in his life. It was so beautiful, we asked him and his care team to read it – grab a tissue and watch on Youtube.


Gas for Grammy

Growing up, Jenelle Hardy knew cancer. A close family friend had battled the disease for years, making trips to Boston every month for treatment.

“She witnessed that,” says Jenifer Hardy, Jenelle’s mother, “but I think it just never occurred to her that those trips weren't paid for by health insurance.”

After her grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2020 and had to make those same trips, the financial truth of being treated in a city 250 miles away hit home for Jenelle, then an 11th grader at BFA St. Albans.

When Deborah passed away in March of 2022, Jenelle was heartbroken and knew she wanted to do something special to pay tribute to her Grammy.

Troubled by the income disparity that made the treatment her family could afford inaccessible to so many others, she decided to launch a campaign raising money for gas cards for cancer patients.

“Both of us posted on Facebook, and then friends shared and their friends shared, and in the end we raised over $3,100,” Jenifer says. “Gas for Grammy,” as they called the program, was born.

The Hardy’s donated the funds to the UVM Cancer Center, which used them to the purchase 126 $25 gas cards, distributing them to cancer patients in the hematology/oncology and radiation clinics. Most were gone within weeks.

Their popularity wasn’t surprising to Matthew Mugford, a social worker at the Cancer Center who helped patients access the cards.  “Many patients voiced a need,” he said. “Some said they didn’t have enough money to fill their tank to make it back home. Some needed to travel for alternative treatments at a facility out of state. For some, treatment wouldn’t have been financially possible without this type of assistance.”

Jenelle feels gratified by the response, says her mom. “I’ve heard her say, ‘We can't take away the cancer, but if we can take away the anxiety or the stress or even one little piece of their worry, that makes it all worth it.’”

Hats for Hope

With their joint Bat Mitzvah fast approaching, best friends Alice Ducham and Ruby Hoffman knew they had to settle on a “mitzvah,” a service project designed to help others that is a traditional part of both Bat and Bar Mitzvahs.

Both girls wanted their service to strike close to home. Ruby’s mother, Jen Nesson, had been in treatment for cancer for four years. The service project they chose, the girls felt, should both honor Jen and help others battling the disease. 

They decided they would collect headwear for patients who had lost their hair during chemotherapy, as Jen had, and needed caps for warmth, comfort and a touch of panache. They called their project “Hats for Hope.” 

To get the word out, Alice, Ruby and their families sent a flurry of emails to friends and family members asking them to send either hats or donations. “Our goal was 50 hats,” says Ruby. Between the hats they received and the money they collected, the haul was over 100.  

During most of the project, which began in December 2021, Jen felt reasonably well. But in March, her cancer metastasized unexpectedly. She died in May.

Ruby was devastated, as were Alice and Alice’s mom, Julie Starr, Jen’s best friend.  “The project was always about the living,” says Kathy McBeth, a psychologist at the UVM Cancer Center who worked with Jen. “But unfortunately, it became a memorial.”

In September, Julie and Alice delivered the hats to the hematology-oncology clinic — a space that stirred too many raw emotions for Ruby — each with an inspirational quote from Albert Einstein the girls had chosen, which inspired the project’s name: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”

Medical assistants wheeled a cart carrying the hats and displaying photos of Alice and Ruby around the lab, offering them to patients. All 100+ were gone within a week.

One patient expressed her thanks in a note to the girls. “Your generosity brought many smiles to (other patients’) faces and mine today,” she wrote. “Just in case you're wondering, I chose a bright yellow-green cap that I look forward to wearing this winter and for a long time after.”

“It feels really good that we were able to do that,” Ruby says, “and touch so many people.”

Skida [+1]: Companies Give Back, Too

The Burlington-based hat-maker Skida is giving warmth and comfort to cancer patients around the country through the Skida [+1] program. For every alpine or nordic hat purchased using the Skida [+1] promotional code, the company donates one hat to a local cancer center. Use promo code UVMCC at check out or in the Burlington, Vermont, showroom to purchase your Skida product and gift Plus One to the UVM Cancer Center. More information on Skida [+1] is here.

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