In September of 2017 LaKeisha Lay of Boutte had one birthday request – birthday cards.
Lay had been diagnosed the year prior with Cutaneous T- Cell Lymphoma, a blood cancer that affects the skin. For her birthday in September five years ago, Lay posted on Facebook that she would love to receive birthday cards from family, friends, community members, and even strangers.
“With all that’s going on, I didn’t realize that my bday is right around the corner. It would be awesome if y’all sent me cards … I’m not soliciting donations, it would be awesome to just have cards from all my friends,” she posted on social media at the time. “Due to my chemo schedule, I had to postpone my bday trip by a couple weeks, but I promise to take every card I receive with me and read them while I’m on my vacay. Sometimes, it’s just the simple things.”
Lay said the response to that request was anything but ordinary – she received nearly 150 cards. The kindness from the community, she said, is something that she has not forgotten five years later.
“During that time I was a little down,” she said. “It’s kind of like watching life pass you by. Even with the great support system that I had, it still felt like everyone was moving except me. I was just stuck in the hospital sick as usual. When I got the cards – so many cards – I realized that people had stopped just for me. They took time out of their lives to shop for, or make, me a card. That was so awesome, and I’ll never forget that so many people in the community cared enough to stop for a moment and uplift a stranger.”
In addition to recognizing her birthday, the cards also offered well-wishes for another reason: September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. Lay continues to undergo chemotherapy every 21 days in an effort to keep the cancer from advancing any further. She has been the recipient of a bone marrow and stem cell transplant, with her sister Ayesha was her living donor.
“As far as my condition right now … I am not in remission, but I’m doing pretty good this year. The people of St Charles Parish rock,” Lay said. “My cancer affects the skin and in the beginning I made a general Facebook post about how expensive the Aquaphor was and goodness … people sent me Aquaphor. I also get mouth sores from chemo and a dental hygienist sent me samples of gentle mouthwash. They have visited me in the hospital with flowers and treats. One lady, Rosalyn Markey, would make me homemade candy for my chemo treatments. One lady remembered that I like to cruise and she gave me a $750 cruise gift card. Her name was Alaina Lumar. Cheerleaders at RK Smith sent me a card where all of the cheerleaders had signed. It was organized by a cheerleader named Shayla. I received homemade card from a prison and over 50 people had signed.”
Then, she said, there was her church family.
“The late Rev. Lagrange of True Vine Baptist Church in Hahnville and all its members kept me sane,” she said. “Last but not least my family was awesome. My support system was a key factor in my survival – my mom, my late father, my sisters, my three daughters and a friend I met on the softball field, Mary Davis. These people have spent as many days at the hospital as I have. They have given their time, resources, and mostly love. It’s harder on them sometimes than me. Paulette Castle Lay is my mother and I could not have made it without her.”