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A 'Little Bag of Hope' is providing VCU breast cancer patients with inspiration

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Posted at 9:23 PM, Oct 12, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- When new breast cancer patients walk through the doors of VCU Health's Breast Imaging department, Sarah Saunders knows what they must be feeling.

"It's terrifying. Every patient that comes into this office is terrified," said Saunders, who was diagnosed with and beat breast cancer several years ago.

After that journey, Saunders, a nurse, switched from the field of pediatrics to breast cancer and is the department's nurse navigator.

"It's just nice to be able to connect with patients on a different level because I've been in their shoes. I know how scary it is to get the biopsy done to wait for results."

Saunders said she guides patients through the initial stages from screening to diagnosis, when they are handed off to another team.

"Then the breast health nurse navigators take it from there and they are amazing," said Saunders.

Saunders added that while the patients will eventually return to her department for follow-up screenings, the team wanted those patients to know that everyone there was still thinking about them.

"I just wanted our patients to know that we will not forget about you. We're here for you through thick and thin."

About a year ago, that desire led Saunders and Dr. Priti Shah to create what they call their "Little Bag of Hope" which they filled with inspirational quotes and trinkets and gave to patients as they moved on as something they could turn to during difficult times.

Saunders added that gifts she got during her diagnosis were essential in letting her know that she was not alone.

"I just want them to know that I am not going to forget about you. I'm on this journey with you," said Saunders, who then described the trinkets. "We've got a star to wish upon, a candle to remind you that there is light to be found in every darkness, an angel to help protect you and guide you, a flower to remind you of the beautiful things, a key to unlock your inner strength, a heart to remind you that you are always loved, a hug to show you that we care, and a horseshoe to bring you good luck."

Saunders said they have given out around 350 of the bags since starting the program. Among the recipients was Olivia Salustro. She came into contact with Saunders when coming for a check-up about six months ago for breast cancer that she beat eight to nine years ago and cancer was found in her other breast during the exam. She has since beaten that as well and said the bag was a welcome gift.

"It's a million-dollar bag isn't really a million dollars. But, in terms of what it says the meaning behind it and the care that it took to put them together is really very lovely. And it's very supportive and encouraging and hopeful for patients," said Salustro.

"This is just a little, little, tiny bag, but it represents a milestone in one's life. And you'll never forget it."

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