STAR, Idaho — Getting a cancer diagnosis and beginning the recommended course of treatment is not easy, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made that daunting task even more difficult.
Due to COVID-19 safety protocols, patients undergoing surgery or chemotherapy are not allowed to bring friends and family in with them for support.
Stephanie Kjerstad, a wife and mother from Star, is just one of thousands of local patients facing a cancer diagnosis during the pandemic. She battled Stage 3 colorectal cancer in 2020, and was shocked when she received the diagnosis in her forties.
“You just never think that it could happen to you,” Kjerstad said. “You don't expect that, you always think it's someone else, you do.”
The mother of two endured surgery and months of aggressive treatment. At the beginning of December 2020, her computed tomography (CT) scan came back clear. She will have to undergo scans and bloodwork every three months for the next three years to make sure her cancer does not return.
Kjerstad wanted to find a way to give back to the place she spent so many of her days; St. Alphonsus Nampa Cancer Care Center.
“One of the things with COVID-19 and everything happening is that we've lost that human contact, right?" she said. "Just to be able to say I'm here with you, you're not alone, and just to be able to touch each other. Hopefully, we can do that after COVID."
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, patients still cannot have visitors at many of our local hospitals. The restrictions gave Kjerstad an idea.
“I noticed when you are going through infusion or radiation, most people are there by themselves, and you are there for hours,” she said. “How nice would it be to have a journal, or a crossword or headphones, or just something to pass the time to make it easier and more comfortable?”
Kjerstad decided to put together chemo care kits for patients. With the help of her fellow Eagle Kiwanis Club members, she did just that. They worked together to gather donations and purchased the items for the kits.
“The kits have headphones, a journal, pens, tissue, socks. water, all that stuff," she said. "So basically when you are there you have your care kit with you."
The staff at St. Alphonsus was absolutely thrilled with the donation.
“Getting chemo treatments is difficult enough, but doing chemo treatments in the middle of a pandemic? It's so challenging and it makes it extra difficult, so something that they can have that's tangible and that's comforting to them is amazing,” said Keri Monson, Cancer Care Nursing Supervisor at Saint Alphonsus. “What inspires me about Stephanie is her strength, her resiliency, her upbeat positive attitude, and her fight. It's not easy to go through treatment. It uproots your life, it changes things. To have someone come out and come through with this positive perspective and help others who are going through the same thing, it's a testament to her strength, her compassion, and her love.”
Kjerstad can't wait for the day where she can deliver the chemo kits directly to patients.
“I wish I could be there to see their faces! But, I checked in with the nurses and they say the patients just love the care packages," Kjerstad said. "Just to know that we are making a small little impact for someone who walks in for the very first time and is scared, and say here's a care package because we care. It actually brings goosebumps. I feel like this journey that I have been on, if there's somehow that I can touch someone, then this whole battle that I have been through will have been worth it. It just means the world.”
Watch more '7's Hero'
See all of the heartwarming segments in our YouTube playlist here: