Today@Sam Article

Student Strives To Bring Joy To Cancer Patients

Aug. 25, 2017
SHSU Media Contact: Amanda Horn

LopezRhodes with friend630
Lopez-Rhodes pictured on the right.

We all have certain things that spark our interests or curiosities. As time goes on, we realize how important these interests are to us. Furthermore, it is through our experiences and opportunities that our curiosities begin to grow.

For Jordan Lopez-Rhodes, a health science major at Sam Houston State University, her interests lie with researching oncology and helping children with cancer.

“I have always loved kids and in my ninth-grade biology class we had a lesson over how cells abnormally grow, which is cancer, and since then I have been interested in it,” Lopez-Rhodes said.

Captivatingly enough, about four years ago Lopez-Rhodes and her family formed their own non-profit organization called JAKS Chemo Care Kits 4 Kids. They wanted to make the organization personal and meaningful, so they decided to incorporate JAKS, an acronym for the names of each of her family members, in the title. Her family consists of her two sisters, Amaia and Kennedy, her mom, Sefra, and herself. They actually came up with the idea for this organization when her grandfather was diagnosed with cancer.

“He beat it, and he is doing well now,” she said. “Because of this, it sparked our energy to create this organization.”

Within the organization, Lopez-Rhodes and her family create chemo care kits for pediatric cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Each care package is specially made by her family and includes items that will help with some of the common side effects of chemo, such as a comfort item, lemon heads or ring pops for the kids’ dry mouths, spirals, coloring books, pens and crayons, and at least one activity item. Particularly, they choose items that are age-and gender- specific for the cancer patients.

“If they are older, we will give them games like UNO or Phase 10, games that are harder,” she said. “For the younger kids, we will give them games involving matching or anything that deals with easy math.”

Once the packages are completed and ready to be sent to the patients, Lopez-Rhodes and her family go through the process of delivering them. Initially, they drop off the packages at their local cancer centers in Bryan. Sometimes they receive emails asking for a certain care package, asking them to include what the patient likes. In cases like these, Lopez-Rhodes and her family will personally drop off the package at the patient’s house, if it is close by, or they will mail it to those who live too far to drive or out of state.

“We also provide for those at M.D. Anderson and Texas Children’s hospitals,” Lopez-Rhodes said. “We just have to contact them in order to drop off the packages at the correct delivery site.”

Her family is able to keep the organization up and running through donations. Most come from their community, family and friends. They also created a Facebook page called JAKS Chemo Care Kits 4 Kids, in order to spread the word about the organization and to receive more generous donations. The page has an explanation of what the organization does, the events that are taking place, various pictures, and how to donate. Because of this, their organization has flourished.

Packages prepared by Lopez-Rhodes and her family.

“Every donation that we receive goes towards the purchase of kit items,” she said. “We greatly appreciate any amount that is given to our organization.”

As the years have progressed, the organization has been quite successful, according to Lopez-Rhodes. The first year, the organization’s goal was to provide 60 care packages. Because of all the donations they received, they were able to make 80. Each year, their goal for the number of care packages increases; however, their ultimate goal is to bring a smile to the faces of the kids and their parents. In doing this, they try to give them something encouraging during their hard time and put their mind aside from what is going on.  

“We also want to let these kids know that they don't fight this battle alone,” Lopez-Rhodes said.

Along with being apart of JAKS, Lopez-Rhodes is focusing on pre-med and then medical school by furthering her knowledge in health science, particularly oncology.  

She recently received acceptance into the Joint Admissions Medical Program. JAMP is a special program created by the Texas Legislature that provides scholarships for undergraduate and medical school students. The program also offers medical school admission to those students who satisfy both academic and nonacademic requirements to at least one of the participating medical schools. Lopez-Rhodes says she is thrilled to be a part of this program and the benefits that it has to offer.

“Other than it supporting us economically, it gives us exposure and experience that would be hard to come by if we did not have this program,” Lopez-Rhodes said.

To help her prepare for a career in oncology, Lopez-Rhodes has been working at a cancer research lab for the past two years at Texas A&M University. The dad of one of the kids that she coaches in the summer owns the lab, and coincidently they had a grant to do breast cancer.

 “After he heard that I am interested in studying cancer, he told me that I should come check it out to get it under my wing,” Lopez-Rhodes said.

Lopez-Rhodes started out as a lab technician at the beginning. In this position, she had to make sure that everyone had his or her equipment and that they were ready to begin their research. Now, along with being a lab technician, she cultures cells, makes media and writes protocols. Thus, working at the lab has allowed her to expand her knowledge in oncology.

“Having the job at the lab has given me practice and exposure to things that I will use for my career,” Lopez-Rhodes said.

Lopez-Rhodes is ecstatic about where her life is headed. She says that being involved in the non-profit organization, working at a research lab, her admission into JAMP, and learning all about health science have made her into who she is today. These mechanisms have allowed her to grow in her independence and to accomplish her goal of helping others.

“Everything that I am a part of shows leadership, as well as my heart and what I want to do,” she said. “It’s about serving a greater purpose, not only for the kids but for the community.”

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