Last April, Becky Rossi got some of the worst news imaginable. Her mother, Linda Ahern, had not been feeling well, but nobody expected the diagnosis – stage four cancer that had already metastasized into her bones. Despite the long odds, she fought hard for six months before eventually succumbing to the disease on Oct. 27, 2018.
Though she was devastated by the loss, Rossi decided to turn her sorrow into a cause for good. She thought of how other women who were fighting cancer likely had situations similar to her mother – waiting long hours during treatment without much to do to keep their minds occupied, or having their feet get cold.
And so, the concept of “Mimi Bags” was born. They are little care packages, neatly assembled in small, pink tote bags, with little items of comfort such as tissues, hand sanitizer and chap stick, as well as things to provide entertainment during long hours at treatment, like word searches and adult coloring books, along with colored pencils. They also have ginger chews and chocolate mints, which could help with nausea that often occurs alongside chemotherapy. The name is derived from how she was referred to by those who loved her.
Rossi said these bags will be distributed to cancer advocacy groups such as the Gloria Gemma Foundation and Pink Heels, which can then give them out to people who are going through treatment for breast cancer – since October, when her mother passed, is Breast Cancer Awareness month.
“I was fortunate that my work did allow me to [take time off to care for her mother], but I saw people getting dropped off and picked up, just sitting there watching TV, and I thought wouldn’t this be nice?” Rossi said of the idea. “She would have loved it. I could picture her getting a bag like this and being like, ‘Isn’t this the sweetest thing?’ She loved doing mind puzzles to keep herself busy. And I feel like the adult coloring books will help them relax a little bit and pass the time away so they’re not just thinking about, ‘Is this going to work? Am I going to get better?’ Just lose themselves.”
Rossi began raising money to assemble 100 of these bags first by putting up a pink “Caring Tree” at Creative Corner, the Coventry salon where she works as a stylist, where for a $5 or more donation, people can put a heart-shaped name of someone on the tree in their honor. The initiative took off from there.
Ahern used to volunteer as a foster grandmother for Cedar Hill Elementary School in Warwick, and Black Rock Elementary in Coventry. Both those schools put up Caring Trees and dedicated their Pink Out fundraising drives to Rossi’s endeavor. The Dog House, a pet groomer in Coventry, also put up a tree.
Boosting her momentum even further, the Carpenter-Jenks Funeral Home in Coventry chipped in with a donation of 250 pairs of warm, fuzzy socks. It inspired Rossi to boost her original goal of 100 bags to 250, which she is working towards now.
The bags will also contain a coupon donated by Flawless Beauty in Coventry, which will cover a large portion of the cost of getting an areola tattoo for women who have undergone mastectomies, or for microblading of eyebrows – a trendy, though expensive process that uses finite scratches and colored pigment to imitate a realistic, cleanly shaped, natural eyebrow – which can be utilized by women who have lost their eyebrow hair due to chemo.
Rossi enlisted the help of her friends and coworkers at the salon and her four children to stuff the care packages and get them ready for donation. Rossi said it is this support network that has helped her through the darkest times.
“I’m an only child, so it was tough,” she said. “But the day of diagnosis I stopped working, and my salon let me. I just took care of her for six months. Every day I was with her. They were wonderful. ‘You take care of your mother and come back when you can.’ They helped me put all these bags together. The women are amazing. The support for me and my kids is huge.”
Rossi hopes to grow the initiative next year to do 500 bags and become an official nonprofit organization, with the goal of visiting treatment centers across the state to drop off the care packages personally.
“I want this to be something that helps other women and honors her memory,” Rossi said of her motivation. “I know she would love that, for women in their darkest hour, someone is thinking of them. I just want to make her proud. It’s tough, but this turns something bad into something good for other people.”
Those interested in helping Rossi with donations or other ideas for Mimi Bags should reach out to her at BeckyRossi73@gmail.com.