HILLSBORO, Ore. -- It’s Monday morning and Matt Ferguson is at a Portland office, owned by his parents. He’s assembling comfort bags that he gives away to thousands of chemotherapy patients across Oregon and Washington. Matt is a high school senior.
Each month, he and a team of volunteers assemble and distribute as many as 5,000 chemo comfort bags. They’re given to clinics for women to use as they start their chemotherapy treatments.
“We kind of change with the season and with the winter seasons we start to put more warm things in, like a blanket and a pillow," Ferguson said.
Other items in the bag include warm socks, a calendar, a pen, note pad, Kleenex and hand sanitizer.
It would be unusual for a high school student to even consider such a project if he didn’t understand the need so well. He remembers the devastating feeling three years ago, when his father called a family meeting. Matt thought he was in trouble.
“I was kind of freaking out at this point. 'Oh no what did I do? What did I do?'” he said. “I walked into the living room and my sister is holding my mom and my mom's in tears and like, I really didn’t understand what was going on. And then my dad told me that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer."
The American Cancer Society reports it’s the second leading cause of cancer death in women, trailing only lung cancer.
A relative made a comfort bag for Matt's mom when she started treatment at Northwest Cancer Specialists. Matt noticed few other patients had bags like his mom's, so he thought of a simple solution.
“It was really sad, so I thought that I could take what my mom had with that bag and kind of mass produce them, then give that to everybody, so everybody could have that support and comfort that they could take it everywhere with them," he said.
He started with just five bags and then gathered up more. He got involved in student government, shared his plan with the statewide organization and had hundreds of student leaders from around the state making their own chemo bags which they took back to their own hometowns.
As the months passed, strangers who were getting Matt's chemo bags began responding. Pretty soon there were stacks of letters.
Matt kept and read every note.
“My wife of over 53 years is undergoing colon cancer treatments at Kaiser Permanente here in Portland," one read. "I wish you could have seen the look on her face when some volunteer person presented her with Matt's chemo bag. You are doing a wonderful thing and may God watch closely over you and your family."
It’s a lot for a high school student to take in.
“It really humbles you, I mean, there's not really a better feeling that you can have after reading one of these letters," Ferguson said.
Unless it’s getting a chance to meet a patient who needs a blanket.
“Oh, this is really cool,” said Suzanne Gallagher. She is in her ninth week of treatment at the same clinic Matt’s mom attended. She's delighted to have some extra warmth from the pink fleece blanket, laying it over her legs, tucking it beneath her arms where the chemo tubes attached.
“This is perfect timing, I was just asking for a blanket,” she said with a smile, thanking Matt and giving him a hug.
Matt Ferguson’s had some big moments in his high school career. He started at linebacker for the Liberty High football team, became Homecoming King and is Student Body President.
High points for sure -- but how can anything match the gift of love to a stranger who is undergoing chemotherapy?
For more information on Matt's Chemo Bags, check his website, mattschemobags.com.