Orange County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Steven Thompson recently underwent grueling chemotherapy to stop the growth of cancer cells in his body.
Thompson knows any kind gesture coming from family members, friends, and even strangers makes it easier to endure the debilitating chemo treatments.
So when the deputy had the opportunity to join other law enforcement officers in handing out care packages to patients receiving chemotherapy, he didn’t pass it up.
Thompson was among a group of deputies and officers from several O.C. agencies who donated funds and delivered backpacks filled with comfort items to the Compassionate Care Cancer Center in Fountain Valley on Feb. 25.
The backpacks were filled with lotions, lip balm, blankets, hand sanitizer, candy and other items used to bring some relief to chemo patients.
“I had hundreds of people come to my house and I didn’t even know who they were, and just by somebody sitting there and taking to me for five minutes, (that) changed the day for me,” said Thompson, referring to his own treatment. “I would do it as much as they wanted me to.”
Irvine Police Officer Rafaelo Papale and his wife, Jenn, started delivering the care packages in 2016 in response to a friend who was battling breast cancer.
The couple donated 67 filled backpacks to the cancer center that first year.
The Papales reached out to friends at other agencies and saw the number of volunteers grow to 87 backpacks the following year.
In 2018, nearly 120 were delivered.
And on Feb. 27, volunteers dropped off almost 400 backpacks.
“A lot of these people don’t have anyone to take care of them,” Papale said. “For us, it’s the least we can do. I’ve known a few people that have passed away from cancer and it’s not an easy fight. The more people you have supporting you along the way, the better your odds are.”
Along with OCSD and Irvine PD, agencies represented included the Tustin, Seal Beach, Newport Beach, Buena Park, and Los Alamitos police departments.
A local Girl Scout troop also helped out.
Online retailer Thirty-One Gifts, where Jen Papale works, donated the commissions from the sale of the backpacks to go toward the purchase of the items.
The mission also had deep meaning for Orange PD Sgt. Scott Jorgensen, who lost his mother to cancer.
“It bought back memories for me,” Jorgensen said. “I never saw her actually having to go through the chemo. Having to see what she went through for five hours every couple of weeks for 10 years was an eye-opening experience.”
Dr. Jan Pan, an oncologist at Compassionate Care, said the backpacks make a difference for their patients.
“I think it really helps the patients to remember somebody is thinking about them,” Pan said. “A lot of times, they really feel alone in this process. To know that other people are doing things for them and care about them, I think that has a really meaningful impact on them.”