“It’s called Acute Myelogenous Leukemia” my mother told me over the phone one evening after I put my eight month old son to bed, tucked sweetly into his Sleep-Sack. She wasn’t referring to herself, but she could have been with the depth of emotion heard in her voice. One of her best friends, Suzette, had been diagnosed just that morning after weeks of unexplained fatigue.
Hers would be an almost immediate course of chemotherapy and a just as sudden dose of the common side effects of the intense treatment. My mother was with Suzette through the treatments, with long visits and plenty of food for her and her husband. Suzette’s friends were many and soon her freezer was full of meals brought by loving people, helping in the only tangible way we sometimes can: with a gift of nourishment, of comfort, during a time of struggle. As well intentioned as these gifts of food were, the casseroles and baked goods started to become a challenge for her to consume.
Now this is where my sister and I are inserted into this story; to fulfill a need in the care of Suzette, her nourishment, or more specifically, the lack of nourishment she began experiencing. You see, while the chemo drugs get down to business eradicating the leukemia cells they do a number on healthy cells as well. Cells in her mouth, throat and esophageal lining began to experience adverse effects. Foods she used to love now tasted awful, mouth sores made it hard to chew and swallow, smells made her nauseated; these combined with a lack of appetite left her body, and her caregivers, struggling to get her enough nutrition.
What Suzette craved were small portions of simple pureed foods, quite like baby food. But rather than send a friend to the supermarket isle for the jarred purees, she took that idea to me and my sister Jessica. Between the two of us we had blended hundreds of batches of the smooth, fresh concoctions for each of our two children. In fact, our daughters Emmy Lou and Gabby, were only 6 weeks apart and Jessica and I would talk daily in those early feeding months of which single foods we’d start with, the blends we’d create and which recipes our little girls would turn there noses up to or grab the spoon for more. We even made double batches and shared with each other to create more variety for the girls without the extra work for the moms. It was easy and fun to make our own baby food and I continued with my second child, Mack. At eight months one of his favorite purees was a mixture of avocado and banana. He loved it warm or frozen and slightly thawed. It was one of my favorites too, tasting like ice cream with the texture to match. This recipe would turn out to be our first batch of HopeFULLs for Suzette.
And so it happened that we translated Suzettes needs and wants through my mother (“her doctor says she needs more fat and calories.... she likes berries right now... maybe something with oatmeal in it...”) into purees which we decided to freeze like a Popsicle. She could eat them warmed up or frozen on the stick to sooth her mouth sores and lessen the smell of even the mildest of mixtures. Her Oncology team hadn’t seen anything like this: Popsicles made out of sweet potatoes and coconut oil, or peanut butter, strawberries and oatmeal. But they were working to keep Suzette off of the feeding tube so they embraced these HopeFULLs as a solution.
Ultimately Suzette passed on, but her grace, courage and inspiration lives on and is embedded in a business founded by my sister and me. Suzette encouraged us to create something bigger out of this experience; she foresaw a business venture and a successful one at that. It took half a year for us to sit on the idea, brainstorm and then talk to friends and family. Ultimately Jessica and I decided that we could be in the business of creating kits that allow others to do what we did for Suzette: provide a solution for a loved one during a time of difficulty eating.
We sourced a silicone mold maker and designed the perfect shape for our pops. We found adorable spoon-sticks and a sturdy cooler tote. We created even more recipes and tested them out with everyone we knew and a handful of dietitians and oncologists. We also enlisted a good friend of ours to write beautiful short “poems” inspired by the ingredients within each recipe that are intended to fill the reader with hope, peace and the memory of a meal well enjoyed. Hence the aptly named The HopeFULL Gift Pack ~ we aim to fill the belly and the soul to provide “healthy servings of hope.”
Jessica’s and my children are now beyond the puree-feeding stages but still love the healthy mixtures in what they consider “treats”... in the form of frozen HopeFULLs. Like a lot of parents, we’ve struggled with picky eating, demands of mac ‘n’ cheese every meal for a week and other challenges of raising children to be healthy eaters. But one thing holds consistently true for our children and others we know: kids love frozen treats on a stick! This became the inspiration for our next product, The BellyFULL Kit, which aims to get kids into the kitchen experiencing whole foods in a fun, unique and tasty way.
The joy of feeding a loved one and the struggles felt when they can’t or won’t eat; the birth of a new baby and the death of an old friend; the inspiration of a business and the perspiration as it is comes to fruition; these are part of my life, part of my sister’s life and have shaped the way we work. They ground us to the reality of why we started The HopeFULL Company and the joy of how we can help others. It’s a reminder every day of the fragility of life but also of the joy found in simply the taste of a strawberry or the soothing sensation of an avocado-banana HopeFULL.