Thursday, January 21, 2010

One Woman's Gesture That Became A Calling


It's not typically the first word that comes to mind when cancer is mentioned. But there's nothing at all typical about Kimberly Hansen's story. Known for her ever-present smile and signature "live sassy" slogan, she lived for opportunities to make others' lives better. Even as her own time was coming to a close, Kimberly had around 100 people in her community whose realities she was determined to brighten. She will — along with countless more across the nation.

On December 29, 2009, Kimberly expressed her wish for every cancer patient at Ft. Bragg's Womack Army Medical Center to have a warm, cozy blanket during chemotherapy treatments just as she had. With the power of the Internet, this simple but significant request was realized in less than 24 hours for all of Womack's cancer patients. Kimberly learned of the fulfillment of her vision before slipping into a coma and dying on New Year's Eve.

The 38-year-old wife of Lt. Col. Bill Hansen, Kimberly was diagnosed less than two years ago with Stage 4 colorectal cancer. Each of her chemotherapy sessions at Womack were spent with a cozy blanket to keep the experience as comfortable as possible. She was struck, however, at how fellow patients either had only their coats,a hospital blanket, or nothing at all to help against chemo's chilling effects. Each active duty military, retiree or dependent receiving cancer care at Womack was, in her view, "in the fight for their lives" and should have some comfort during it. With that, Comfy for Chemo was born.

It made perfect sense to Lara Ryan, Kimberly's sister. Ryan and her parents, Dave and Karen Nypaver, all remember dolls and blankets fuzzed and frayed from Kimberly's cuddling during her childhood. Says Ryan: "The significance of a soft, cuddly blanket is that it reminded Kim of home, her animals, warmth and provided her a sense of comfort. She hoped that people would receive this same sense of home and comfort having their own blanket." 

Kimberly's last act touched far more than her fellow patients. As dozens of friends, family and strangers spread the word, a rush of orders for over 300 blankets just like hers flooded Brookstone. The retailer took orders by hand, giving purchases on Kimberly's behalf a deep price discount. "Cancer has touched my life and unfortunately, there probably isn't a person who in one respect or another hasn't been affected by cancer today," said Tanya Maxwell, Director of Corporate Sales for Brookstone. "I was so moved by Kimberly's story and compelled to keep her spirit alive. There was no question I needed to act immediately." 

The Comfy for Chemo blankets donated during those first few days after Kimberly’s death were delivered today in a small ceremony attended by military personnel, her husband Bill and several close friends.  

But orders haven't stopped with just those 100 plus being donated to Womack, the response was overwhelming and to date almost 500 blankets have been donated to fulfill Kim’s vision.

"We have a mission now to provide comfort to cancer patients receiving chemotherapy nationwide," said Dwight Hansen, who spearheaded the start of the charity on his sister-in-law's behalf. "Our first goal is to deliver blankets to all treatment centers at military hospitals."  After the Womack delivery, Hansen reports that there are plans for blankets to be delivered to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and to the Navy Medical Center in San Diego in February.

"This is just the beginning," declares Hansen. "Comfy for Chemo is a way for our family to keep her spirit alive through touching other people's lives like Kimberly did ours."

Comfy for Chemo is a non-profit organization, led and supported by an all-volunteer board of directors and support team — and 100 percent of donations go to purchase blankets for patients.

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