Hope & encouragement in 1,000 cards

11 Jul 2012 | 08:35

MONROE — Madiam Namdar has always liked receiving cards. Who doesn’t?

But last year, when the Monroe resident was in treatment for breast cancer, the mother of three boys couldn’t figure out how or why she kept getting cards in the mail from complete strangers.

Their cards offered support and encouragement. The notes written and signed by names Namdar didn’t recognize reminded her others were thinking of her and hoped she would return to good health as soon as possible.

“These people were complete strangers and they cared about it me,” said Namdar. “It was so simple and so beautiful and so overwhelming, to get cards from strangers, especially when you were sick.”

It wasn’t until later that Namdar learned a friend submitted her name to “Joan’s Monarch Wishes,” named after longtime Monroe resident Joan Smith, which honors Smith’s memory by supporting those living with cancer with cards containing messages of hope, encouragement and cheer.

Now, supporters of Joan’s Monarch Wishes have embarked on an ambitious plan to mark the group’s first year of supporting cancer patients.

Called “Joan’s Monarch Wishes 1,000 Card Challenge,” organizers hope to get at least 1,000 signed cards to send to cancer patients at Orange Regional Medical Center’s Eleanor T. Snow Radiation Oncology Center, its Spagnoli Family Cancer Center’s infusion and inpatient centers and at the Goshen Radiation Oncology Center to let them know others are cheering their efforts to combat their disease.

Family night A special “Joan’s Monarch Wishes” family night will be held at the South Orange YMCA in Monroe on Friday, July 27, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. where community members can stop by and create custom cards to be sent to cancer patients and help the group to reach its 1,000 card goal.

“When a patient arrives for treatment they will be greeted with a card that will lift their spirits and let them know that others are there to help them on their journey, according to Lori Smith Genzel, one of Smith’s daughters.

Family members say Smith, who died of lung cancer in August 2010, always appreciated receiving cards from well-wishers during her six year battle with the disease. The cards always lifted her spirits, said her daughter Jen Schnaars of Monroe, and reinforced to her that others were thinking of her while providing encouragement to her as she fought her illness.

The group’s name was the result of Smith’s fondness for butterflies, which always seemed to be in her home’s yard during her illness.

‘To get to the good’ Family members were convinced a huge yellow butterfly which was consistently fluttering around her gravesite on the day she was buried was a sign from Smith to help them cope with their loss.

The group selected the monarch butterfly as its symbol because, according to its Facebook page, the monarch “is a symbolic creature that reminds us of new life and the journey that must take place in order to get to bigger and better things. Just like the butterfly, the journey of a person living with cancer is the same - you have to get through the challenging times in order to get to the good.”

“I found out later one of my friends put me on the list for Joan’s Monarch Wishes,” said Namdar. “I would cry when I get the cards. It was so simple and so beautiful and so overwhelming. When I was feeling better, I asked Lori if I could ‘pay it forward,’ she said absolutely. It’s such a wonderful thing to mail someone who’s sick a card. I felt so lucky, I know it sounds corny.”

Now, Namdar is working with Genzel and Jimmy Madison at the Y to try to encourage as many adult and children’s groups and organizations and individuals to stop by and take a few minutes to make some cards. They will make sure the cards get promptly delivered.

They’ll get additional writing energy from cupcake and cookie treats courtesy of Kim Holbrook of Lady Fingers Bakery in Monroe, Namdar said.

“They were so helpful, honestly, they gave me motivation,” she added. “When the boys would get the mail, they’d say, ‘Mommy, look, another card.’ They kept me going, those cards.”

The group has a steady group of volunteers who regularly purchase or make cards and send them to cancer patients who are nominated by their family and friends to be recipients. They understand the sensitivities associated with cancer and will not send cards unless they are assured the cards will be welcome by recipients.

Now, Namdar is even getting cards from strangers who are sending their good wishes and thoughts about her recovery.

“I’m getting poems and bookmarks, it’s just amazing,” she said. “I could cry thinking about it.”

The plan for the card making evening entails having a mix of ready-made cards for people to write notes and sign, and materials to create handmade cards. Those with little time can also drop off their cards and organizers will make sure they get to their recipients.

“It’s going to be a big card making party,” said Namdar.

After getting a clean mammogram earlier this year, Namdar is closer to feeling like her old self.

“I’m not 100 percent, but I’m getting there,” she said. “I have three boys, a wonderful husband and I’m just thankful to be alive. Cancer is no joke.”

— Nancy Kriz