GREAT NECK, New York- Creativity breeds comfort for Debi Cavolo. “We take a basket and we put a little bit of fluff in it," Debi Cavolo showed us. Every single one is a work of art and a show of support for women battling breast cancer. “I want to let them know that they’re not alone so the next patient doesn’t feel like I did," she said. Debi, who’s a longtime surgical nurse at North Shore University Hospital, underwent a lumpectomy in 2006 and a bilateral mastectomy in 2012. “I just remember feeling so isolated," she described. "I felt like nobody would understand what I was going through.”
While working through her own recovery, she got to work on another project. “I knew I wanted to give back and my business partner, Andy Rampersad, [a co-worker] understood my dream," Cavolo said. So they launched the Breast Cancer Comfort Foundation and began making small gift baskets from her home. Inside are items like a pillbox, journal, tote bag, hot/cold packs, thank you cards, chapstick and much more. "I thought of the things that I would want if I was laying in the bed," Cavolo explained.
Since 2014, they’ve grown from delivering ten baskets a month to more than 50. Doctors saw the immediate impact and they wanted to get involved. “A lot of these women are emotional and vulnerable, they’ve just had their breasts removed and bringing them this basic brings them comfort knowing someone is thinking of them," Dr. Neil Tanna described. Dr. Neil Tanna is a plastic surgeon and says a positive attitude means everything to a patient’s healing.
“I’m very excited about my little pill thing! Monique smiled. Monique, a school teacher, has battled stage three breast cancer for more than year. “My first chemo was January 12 and the same day my grandmother passed away," she said tearfully. "I realized I need support so anything that can give me a support, I’m happy to take." So getting this pint-sized pink present one day after surgery was more than anything she could’ve expected. “You feel hope, that she’s [Debi] better and got through it so you can too," she said.
As for Debi, these moments make the long hours and hard work worth it. She says she couldn’t do it without her loyal team but credits her brother for inspiring every single day. “I keep this around my neck so that I would always have him near me," Cavolo said holding her necklace. Walter was a New York City firefighter and spent nearly a year helping at ground zero. He was one of the first to lose his life from 9/11-related illnesses. “He gave his life and that’s why I do this," she said. "It makes me feel that what I do, how I live makes a difference."
Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi