Cancer Patient Makes Lemonade out of Lemons

Jill Peltier and NorthShore Patient Cynthia Penn

Just two years ago, Jill Peltier began the fight of her life. She went to see her doctor and had a colonoscopy that revealed she had late-stage colon cancer. Peltier had surgery to resect her colon followed by six months of chemotherapy at NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center.

Every time she went for chemotherapy, she noticed that other cancer patients were often alone and looking worried while waiting to be seen. A friend who always went with her for treatment helped Peltier keep her spirits up. Another friend gave her a gift basket that included lemon drops to remove the sometimes metallic aftertaste of the drugs being used. “We’d make the best of it,” said Peltier, “and I would always say, "I’m making lemonade."

While in treatment, Peltier decided to start making chemotherapy care packages to bring some hope to other patients. She asked a friend to sew handmade bags embroidered with a “Lemons of Love” logo she created. Then she called on friends in motor sports, her business circle, to donate funds to help secure the goodies for the bags. A bag might include a no-fragrance lotion for skin dried by chemo treatments, ginger tea to soothe stomachaches, natural lemon drops, a can of lemonade, bottled water, superhero socks, and, sometimes, jewelry. “Each one is different, depending on current donations,” said Peltier, who started out funding the bags with $10,000 of her own money.

To date, and with the help of generous donations, Peltier estimates she has given out at least 500 care bags to patients at all three of NorthShore’s Kellogg Cancer Center locations. She is now in remission, coming in every three months for blood work and other tests. At each appointment, Peltier brings in 20 to 30 bags to hand out and then leaves some packages with the nurses who follow up with other patients in need of an emotional lift.

“Giving a 'Lemons of Love' bag allows us to express our concern and care and brighten someone’s day,” said Glenbrook Hospital Kellogg Cancer Center Oncology Nurse JoAnn Eriksson, one of Peltier’s nurses while in treatment. “I know patients are hurting and it feels as if I can tangibly do something to lift their spirits. I see their smile, their reaction—and they know someone is thinking about them. It lifts me up, too, because I know something good is happening to a person I care about.”

Evanston Hospital Kellogg Cancer Center Social Worker Meg Madvig said the bags are the perfect pick-me-up for someone going through the rigors of chemotherapy treatment. “I tend to give the packages to my patients with minimal social support,” she said. “It is so special for these isolated patients to be remembered.”

Peltier, who estimates she spends at least 40 hours a week working on “Lemons of Love,” said she’ll continue to give back to NorthShore for “as long as I’m here on Earth.”

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