Sugar-free lollipops bring smiles to kids with cancer

A pair of Chicago area moms with their own cancer stories joined forces to find a way to bring some solace during cancer treatments.

Kim Bavilacqua is a cancer survivor and Jen Coffel lost her parents and best friend to cancer. On New Year’s Eve 2015, the pair decided to find a way to infuse joy in their lives and in the lives of others. 

So Handing H.O.P.E. was born, a project that brings sugar-free, dairy-free, soy-free, free-free, tastes-great lollipops to patients undergoing cancer treatments.

“Sugar feeds on cancer,” says Coffel, a mom of four. “We looked at how kids are dealing with the bad taste and sores (from treatment) and we know from our research that sugar does have a negative correlation there. We wanted to find a safe alternative that staff and parents could give that would bring a smile and taste great and bring some comfort.”

The lollipops were developed by a dentist—“Dr. John”—who provides the sweet treats at a low cost to the project. Coffel and Bavilacqua then “plant” a lollipop tree.

The first tree was planted at the Northwestern Proton Center in Warrenville. There are now trees across the Midwest and as far west as Colorado and east into Massachusetts. 

Recently, the moms visited a cancer patient in Chicago, who traveled 2½ hours each direction from Pontiac for treatments. Her mother wrote to the pair that on a bad day, her daughter couldn’t eat anything, until she was given one of the Handing H.O.P.E. lollipops.

“She said it was like a hot chocolate on a terrible day,” says Bavilacqua, the mom of a teenager. As the non-profit grows, the two are facing new challenges: More hospitals want the lollipop trees and it costs $5,000 a year to keep each one stocked. 

This summer Handing H.O.P.E. will hold five fundraising races, including a bubble run, a foam glow run and a black light run.

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