When Joan A. Smith died of non–small cell lung cancer in 2010, her daughter Lori Genzel wanted to find a way to honor her. She remembered how a simple greeting card would always​ lift her mother’s spirits. “Just a note to say ‘I’m thinking of you’ would make all the difference,” says Genzel.

Mail Your Own Cards of Support

Join the following organizations that send cards to patients.

A year after her mother’s​ death, Genzel, of Flemington​, N.J., turned that recollection into a mission: to send cards and notes to people with cancer. The now 39-year-old marketing coordinator began by recruiting a group of family members and friends to send handwritten notes to people with cancer in 2011. The group started small, using word of mouth to get names and addresses of people they knew who were affected by the disease.

These handwritten sentiments provide patient support from a distance. Organizing these efforts also allows a daughter to connect with her mother. When she was dying, Smith once joked that she’d come back as a butterfly. And, poignantly, on the day of the funeral, a vibrant butterfly flew onto the flowers that adorned Smith’s casket and stayed there throughout the service. That memory inspired Genzel to name the organization Joan’s Monarch Wishes.

“The butterfly is my mother’s symbol,” says Genzel. “I know she is a part of this group, even from beyond. Her battle wasn’t fought for ​no reason. It was fought to give us strength and courage to help others.” 

When Writing a Note

These tips can help you get started.

Do:

  • Express your support.
  • Keep the tone positive and encouraging.
  • Speak from your heart.
  • Write often.
Don’t:

  • Tell the person what he or she could have done to not get cancer.
  • Give medical advice or talk about a new cancer “cure” you read about.​

Do you know an extraordinary person who’s giving his or her time to the cancer cause? Email Volunteer@CancerTodayMag.org. We may feature the person in a future issue.