Amy’s Rays of Sunshine is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization founded by Amy Steeves to pay forward the love and support that she received from her amazing community during her own bone marrow transplant after a cancer relapse in 2019. During my 90 days away from home I (Amy) could have a new card or note every morning to open and help lift my spirits, make me laugh, or give me some inspiration to keep pushing through this impossibly hard time. Some of my most meaningful and impactful cards were from complete strangers. It helped so much to know that people were cheering me on from afar and rooting for me.
When I was 28 years old and my first son was 10 months old, I was finally told what had been causing horrible symptoms and a full body rash for over a year but no one could diagnose: it was lymphoma. Cancer. Angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma, which is an incredibly rare type that mostly occurs in elderly patients. I was a young mom with her whole life ahead of her. I had to stop working as a retail pharmacist and undergo 6 months of really difficult chemo treatment and what felt like endless hospital stays.
I was in remission for 3 years and lucky enough to have another baby. When he was 7 months old, I found a rash on my arm. I called my cancer center and they sent me in for a scan and a skin biopsy. The lymphoma was back. This time we knew that we needed a bone marrow transplant. Out of my three siblings, our best option was my brother who was a 6/10 match. I received a phone call that I had no match on the bone marrow registry and I felt like my world started to fall apart. We went ahead with an autologous bone marrow transplant with my own stem cells, knowing it probably wouldn’t be curative but would buy us some time to weigh our options. About 5 months later the lymphoma reared its ugly head again. I went to my appointment ready to discuss options and make some hard choices. Instead, they told me that they ran me again and I had a 10/10 match in Germany, and he was willing to donate. I cried happy tears! (And so did a lot of my friends and family!)
In March 2019 I had a bone marrow transplant with my donor’s cells. It was the hardest year of my life, but I have no doubt that without my amazing donor and my treatment team, I would not be here today, raising my family and hugging my boys. I have had countless chemotherapy treatments, radiation sessions, injections, blood draws, bone marrow biopsies, blood transfusions, and holidays spent in the hospital. I have been completely overwhelmed and amazed at my support system and how they have cared for me and my family. I have been able to contact my donor Sebastian and we have been getting to know each other across the world. Cancer has changed me forever, and I am grateful for every second in this new life that I have been given.
Creating Amy’s Rays of Sunshine
After a bone marrow transplant, it usually takes around 90 days for a patient’s counts (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets) to fully recover enough to no longer need constant medication and blood transfusions. During this time you are required to stay within 10 minutes of the transplant center (Duke in my case) for 90 days with one caregiver. My mom stayed at a long-term hotel with me for this time period. Because my children were so young, I wasn’t allowed to visit with them for the first 30 days, and it was so hard being away from my family. When my community learned that I would have to be isolated for this time period, they all came together and made me a “Rays of Sunshine” box. One quote that I had been using to keep me going was “Keep your face toward the sunshine and the shadows will fall behind you.” My friends, neighbors, fellow preschool parents, and even strangers in the community put cards, letters, jokes, and messages in the box with the goal of having 90 messages. During my 90 days away from home I could have a new card or note every morning to open and help lift my spirits, make me laugh, or give me some inspiration to keep pushing through this impossibly hard time. Some of my most meaningful and impactful cards were from complete strangers. It helped so much to know that people were cheering me on from afar and rooting for me.
Now that I’m in remission, I was searching for a meaningful way to help others feel supported and not alone during the hardest time of their lives.
In creating my nonprofit Amy’s Rays of Sunshine, I wanted to be able to provide young adult patients undergoing a bone marrow transplant a box of inspirational and caring messages from people so that they too can have something to lift their spirits every day during this difficult and isolating time. This requires a large number of cards as you may guess so we are working hard and teaming up with our local communities for help.We have card drives happening around the country from all different types of organizations, individuals mailing in cards, and community events to help fill our boxes! We have already been able to provide completed boxes to Duke and hope to keep expanding and spreading sunshine as far and as wide as we can!
You can help! If you would like more information or want to get involved, please visit our website at www.amysraysofsunshine.org or visit us on social media.