If you’ve ever wondered if there is good in the world, you haven’t met Joy Harmon.
Harmon, a young married mom living in Naperville, Illinois, with two small children, was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma triple positive breast cancer in July 2019. Her diagnosis prompted multiple rounds of chemotherapy, hormone therapy infusions and radiation, as well as a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. As she was going through all of this, she told her husband and two girls, “Something good is going to come out of this.”
Sure enough, she was right.
During one of her infusion sessions in the fall of 2019 at the Northwestern Medicine Cancer Center in Warrenville, Harmon was talking with two of her three sisters about Thanksgiving. As Harmon looked around the infusion room, it dawned on her that many patients would be spending a portion of their Thanksgiving week at the cancer center, and a lot of them alone.
“That made my heart hurt,” said Harmon. “So many [people] did such amazing things for me and my family during my treatment process. The only way I thought I could thank them properly was to pay it forward and do something for others.”
Harmon thought about putting together little bags filled with some of her favorite items, like slipper socks, lip balm and tissues, to help patients feel more comfortable during their cancer center visit and give them a tiny bit of joy. She ran the idea by social worker, Kaylee Morrison, LCSW, and got the green light.
“My husband and I were planning on paying for all of it because it was something that meant a lot to me,” said Harmon.
Soon after the gift bag idea was hatched, Harmon was picking up her kids from school and was approached by a couple of friends who sell Mary Kay cosmetics. The friends were hosting a Mary Kay event in the month of October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, and asked if they could donate a portion of the proceeds to Harmon’s family. Harmon politely declined as her family had been given tremendous support through gifts, meals and so much more. She did let them know about her gift bag idea and asked if her friends might want to instead donate to the project. Her friends were thrilled to do so. Harmon talked about her idea with additional friends and family members, and was surprised to find that everyone was eager to support it.
“We ended up putting together 100 little gift bags in November and raised over $3,000 in donations,” she said. “People kept giving! I received so many donations as well as people dropping products at my front door. I was blown away.” With all of the extra money she was able to provide over 120 additional gift bags and 80 fuzzy blankets in the months of December, January and February. All of the gifts were given to the patients who were receiving treatment for cancer or were diagnosed with cancer at the Northwestern Medicine Cancer Center in Warrenville.
At that point, Harmon knew she was meant to bring joy to others in the form of small bags filled with treasures. Around the same time, one of her friends came up with the idea to call them “Bags of JOY,” and the name stuck.
The pandemic hit, but that didn’t stall Harmon’s mission. She started shipping Bags of JOY to patients nominated on her Facebook page. And, in February of 2021, Harmon and her husband turned their growing service project into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which is now “Bringing JOY Inc.”
Through constant fundraising efforts, including apparel and ornament sales, and an upcoming drive-through ice cream event to help garner gift cards, Harmon is creating monthly Bags of JOY for three Northwestern Medicine Cancer Centers (Kishwaukee, Delnor and Warrenville), special bags for children and teens at the Northwestern Medicine Proton Center and gift cards for the children undergoing cancer treatment at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Since November 2019, Bringing JOY has provided over 800 Bags of JOY to those going through cancer treatment as well as provided more than 75 gift cards to children undergoing cancer treatment.
“I remember how it felt finding a gift at my front door, reading the cards that poured in, the thankful feeling when meals arrived, and the amazing messages of love and support for me and my family. I always felt thank you was never enough, so this is how we are paying it forward,” explained Harmon. “I wanted to share the joy we received during one of the most trying times in our lives. I truly believe a little joy goes a long way.”
Interested in sharing your story? The LivingWell Community blog wants to hear from you!