7th-grader who lost mom to cancer helps pass out 'chemo comfort totes'
More than 100 “chemo comfort totes” will be given to Western Pennsylvania cancer patients this Christmas, along with an extra dose of kindness from a seventh-grade boy.
Organizer Holly Hallman, a seventh-grade teacher at Wendover Middle School, said she found the inspiration to repeat last year’s project from one of her home room students.
Eli Carr, 12, of Hempfield lost his mother, Carolyn Carr, to breast cancer the Monday after Thanksgiving.
“Eli’s dedication to helping others, as well as reflecting on the response to last year’s project, inspired me to want to do this project again — but on a larger scale,” Hallman said.
On Saturday, some of Hallman’s students, members of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg basketball teams, and Eli and his family gathered at the Pitt-Greensburg gym to pack 150 sponsored totes for adult and pediatric cancer patients.
Hallman and her husband, Craig, an assistant men’s basketball coach at Pitt-Greensburg, inaugurated the tote project over winter break last year.
“While the athletes were on campus with no classes to attend, the team packed 46 totes that were filled with items of comfort and support to those going through chemotherapy treatments,” she said.
The totes were distributed to adult patients at the Arnold Palmer Cancer Center, Mt. View, in Unity and to pediatric patients at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
The response was overwhelmingly positive, she said, which inspired Hallman to repeat the distribution this year.
When the new school year started, she learned that one of her students, Eli, had a mother who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was in and out of the hospital. She was struck by the boy’s positive attitude.
“Even though he and his little brother (Grant, 9) were living with the constant uncertainty of their mother winning her second fight with this disease, Eli still always wanted to spread kindness to others and encouraged his classmates to do the same,” she said. “Seventh-grade boys don’t normally think that way.”
Eli’s father, Dave Carr, said he believes his sons inherited the altruistic spirit of their mother.
“Carolyn was a giving person, always worried about everybody else,” he said. “That’s transferred to my kids. They’re the same way. Eli’s a very special kid. Very kind, always thinking of everybody else.”
Both Hempfield graduates, Dave, 53, and Carolyn, 46, were married for 14 years. Carolyn taught first grade in the Kiski Area School District and at Aquinas Academy before that.
First diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, she lived cancer-free for several years. Then, in March, she discovered a tumor through self-examination and was diagnosed with metastatic (Stage IV) breast cancer, her husband said.
She died Nov. 26 at home.
Although Hallman has known other people with cancer, she said she was especially touched by Eli’s story and knew she had to continue the tote bag project into a second year.
The 31 gifts tote bags and their contents are paid for by sponsors, who donate $30 in honor or memory of a cancer patient. The loved one’s name is engraved on a wooden tag that is attached to the tote bag.
So far, Hallman has confirmations from Children’s Hospital and the Arnold Palmer Cancer Centers in Unity and Norwin. She is still awaiting confirmation from the center in Mt. Pleasant.
Distributions will begin Monday.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, email@example.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.