LIFE & LIVING
Rachel Gilbert talks to another local inspirational woman.
For Oa Hackett, the experience of the pandemic has shown more than ever the importance of kindness towards oneself and others. Expressing kindness and care for others is something Oa lives by every day in her personal and professional life.
Oa is the founder of littlelifts, a charity that provides chemotherapy and radiotherapy patients with a box of treats and helpful tools to support them during treatment. The charity works with six hospitals within the East of England. Last year they partnered with Make 2nds Count to also provide the boxes to secondary breast cancer patients, living across the UK.
The inspiration for littlelifts came from personal experience. In 2014, Oa was enjoying a holiday when she found a lump in her breast. Although she tried to ignore it, her now husband, Greg, pushed her to visit the doctor. Shortly after, Oa found herself diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 28.
“I was instantly thrown into a whirlwind of appointments and scans to make sure it hadn’t spread,” Oa said. Six weeks later, she began chemo. “It was really overwhelming — I felt really alone, isolated and angry because I felt quite well, but I knew I had to get sick to get better.”
Oa went through six cycles of chemotherapy. She had to give up working at cycle number four when the treatment become particularly tough. Throughout her cancer experience, her family and friends rallied round, giving her puzzle books, illustrated lolly recipes, lolly moulds and many other little gifts to help ease the side effects of treatment.
It was this kindness expressed to Oa that inspired her to create littlelifts. Since 2017 littlelifts has given out more than 3,700 boxes packed with practical products to alleviate the side-effects of treatment as well as mood-boosting treats. Now the charity sends out more than 3,000 boxes a year to people undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy, including those treated at hospitals in Norfolk and Suffolk.
The boxes support women in a myriad of ways: “Feedback from women with young children tell us that the box can be useful to explain what is happening to Mum,” Oa said. The feedback received is overwhelmingly positive: “one woman told us receiving a box was like being wrapped in the most caring of arms, many box-recipients returning to volunteer”.
The effort began at Oa’s kitchen table, eventually growing to a, “small but mighty,” team of three, supported by an army of volunteers. “littlelifts has been a huge part of my recovery,” Oa said.
Oa’s goal is for every patient undergoing treatment in the UK to receive a box. littlelifts has recently launched a national fund to begin working towards this goal.
Raising awareness about the importance of checking our breasts, and knowing what is normal for us is something Oa champions every day. Each year, 55,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, with 4% of them being under 39. Breast cancer also affects 350 men.
When Oa is in need of inspiration, she looks to another woman that founded a charity after experiencing cancer. Kris founded Coppafeel after being diagnosed with incurable breast cancer aged 23. Kris offered Oa advice, and pushed her to include secondary breast cancer patients in the littlelifts programme. These patients are often receiving treatments reflecting different symptoms and can be viewed as healthy. Offering them the box gives them a voice, Oa said.
“It is important to understand everyone’s experience is different and can be overwhelming, but it’s important to accept help and ask questions to your medical team,” Oa said.
When Oa isn’t working, she can be found enjoying herself outside. Her dog recently passed her therapy assessment and will soon be able to support patients in hospitals.
Oa is passionate about the environment, and has a great love for whales. She was able to kayak with them on her honeymoon in Canada, and spends a lot of time researching how she can next spend time with them on the water and support conservation efforts.
“The experience of the pandemic has shown just how important it is to show kindness towards ourselves, others and the environment,” Oa said.
Looking ahead to next year, littlelifts will be turning 5-years-old. Oa is already debating taking on a big challenge to celebrate — last year the charity held a “big dip” cold water swimming challenge that raised £10,000.
Oa hopes to launch the challenge again in January, and possibly push herself even further. Maybe a carbon neutral trip to the Shetland Islands to visit the whales will be on the cards.
“Cancer has taught me life is too short to not do the things you want to do.”
Give them the lift they need with a littlelifts
mini Boost Box
3 x Boost Boxes gifted to three deserving readers.
Everyone needs a boost sometimes and this is why Places&Faces will be sending out three Boost boxes via the littlelifts online shop.
Fill out the contact form below with your nominations by 31 October 2021 and Places&Faces will select three of the nominees at random. If selected we will contact you after the closing date for the details for where to send the surprise boxes.
The littlelifts boost mini for mood-boosting treats and revitalising goodies. Enjoy a little foodie fun with a delicious selection of tasty delights that are good for the body and soul. Items include luxury chocolate, cold-pressed fresh fruit cordial, munchy seeds, warming mint humbugs and a soothing eye mask. Plus, for every box sold 30% is donated back into littlelifts to help women with breast cancer in East Anglia.