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The Gift of Hope

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

A community-minded teen is inspired by a cancer survivor and commits to helping meet the nutritional needs of others battling disease.

Katie Stagliano with basket of produce

Through my work with Katie's Krops, I have met some people with some amazing stories. One person who touched my life is Ethan Zohn. He put the struggle of cancer patients and their caregivers in the forefront of my mind.

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.” -- Unknown

When I met Ethan, he was a survivor in more than one way. Not only had he won CBS TV show Survivor Africa, he had also beat cancer. He was a true survivor. I was introduced to Ethan when I was asked to film an episode of Everyday Health he was co-hosting. Within the first five minutes of the show, I had accidently fed him “The World’s Hottest Pepper,” mistaking it for a sweet pepper I had planted. Watching him double over, gasping and unable to speak from eating a pepper I had given him, definitely got this friendship off to a memorable start.

We worked in my gardens together and planned our first Katie’s Krops dinner when our local soup kitchen shut down. With the help of volunteers, Ethan and I cooked a healthy, fresh meal for a huge crowd and bonded with each other doing something we both loved -- helping people. So it was heartbreaking when I learned two months later that this vibrant and caring person was re-diagnosed with cancer. Why was someone who gave so much, someone who helped so many people, once again fighting for his life?

It was then that I learned something most of us already know: Cancer is horrible and unfair. Cancer takes a toll financially on patients and their families. Often caregivers are forced to give up their jobs to care for their loved ones. The financial burdens of the disease can be overwhelming and, as a result, families battling cancer sometimes struggle to put food on the table. When you are fighting any disease, proper nutrition is of the utmost importance.

I realized there was something that Katie’s Krops could do. We had nutritious food that could provide cancer patients with a healthy meal. With that thought, I decided to work with the Charleston Cancer Center. Ethan might be hundreds of miles away, but there was something I could do to help those fighting cancer in my own backyard.

Our neighbor and close friend Susan works at the Charleston Cancer Center as a nurse advocate. She became our connection to local cancer patients who agreed to be our delivery person for the baskets of fresh veggies that we wanted to share with patients and their caregivers. She shared the struggles that patients deal with: homelessness, hunger, and mounting medical bills. After numerous deliveries, Susan told us the patients wanted to meet the young girl who was giving them vegetables. I would now deliver the veggie baskets myself.

As I sat down with the patients when they were receiving chemo, they opened up to me. They wore beaming smiles when I passed them a basket filled with bright red tomatoes, vibrant green bell peppers, and loads of other nutritious vegetables. We talked about the days when they gardened. For a lot of them, this was a happy memory and something to look forward to again. I smiled, too, as I received requests for okra and recipes to use with the vegetables. The vegetables not only gave them something to eat, they also helped them heal -- with a smile on their faces and memories of their gardens in their hearts.

After I returned from that visit at the cancer center, I received this email from Ethan:

"I'd like to tell you why today is an amazing day. With my most recent experience of being a survivor, I have learned this one absolute truth -- that with all our differences, old or young, man or woman, cucumbers or tomatoes, we all have one thing in common. We’re all survivors on this earth for just a short time. And it’s not about how or when you leave this world, it’s what you do to make the most of each day and of each crisis while we’re here. It’s not just about surviving them; it’s using them to better yourself and others. I was so excited to visit you last summer, and I'm even more excited that I have inspired you just a little to make the decision to help cancer patients."

So much more than vegetables grow in a Katie’s Krops garden. Our gardens plant the seeds of hope, allow new relationships to bloom, and grow beautiful memories. Thanks, Ethan!

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