Sockin’ it to Cancer
December 25th, 2018 by Juan D. Alfonso

Martha pinned a piece of paper on each pair of socks—unless it had a tag that she could write on—and wrote the name of the place the socks came from. She received socks from several different states. Photos courtesy of Martha Curl

Ruralite reader fights cancer one donation at a time

It all started with her grandmother’s 90th birthday.

Martha Curl, a cancer registrar with Providence Health and Services, wanted to do something special for her grandmother’s milestone event. She decided to place a request in the September 2015 Ruralite magazine on the At Home page asking fellow readers for 90 birthday cards as a surprise.

A few weeks later, Martha was astonished to receive more than 900 cards and gifts from the magazine’s readership.

“I was shocked by the support I got from all of these nice people,” says Martha, who lives in Brownsville, Oregon. “You only ever see all the bad stuff in the media these days. It felt good to know there were still a lot of nice people in the world.”

More than pleased by the turnout from that At Home request, she again turned to Ruralite’s readership last October for an even more personal special occasion. Martha wanted 50 pairs of socks on her 50th birthday, to donate to children fighting cancer.

While Martha’s occupation makes her aware of the struggles cancer patients face every day, she had her own battles with the disease. In October 2008, Martha’s then-13-year-old son, Trent, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a common form of cancer that attacks the lymph nodes, causing constant pain and fatigue for those who suffer from it.

Determined to save her son’s life, Martha spent the next five months taking Trent for two-hour or longer drives to Portland, where he received aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and lived at one of Portland’s two Ronald McDonald houses. It was there that Martha’s experience with the charitable organization motivated her to support the families of children with serious illnesses as a lifelong campaign to wipe out cancer.

“The Ronald McDonald houses really are great,” Martha says. “My son was sometimes getting multiple treatments a week, and the housing they gave us really made the driving trips much easier and a lot less often. They gave us all kinds of things to help us and support us, but it’s a charitable organization, so their funds were limited. They didn’t have a budget for soaps, shampoo or any of the other toiletries that people need, so I started donating those types of items every year for the families.”

Martha is not quick to take credit or pat herself on the back, but the effort she has put toward donating to the Ronald McDonald House Charities is anything but minor.

“Martha is an absolute champion for fighting cancer,” says Kelly Deniston, a cancer registrar and Martha’s coworker. “Our company has this annual conference we all attend, and for years Martha’s been asking the hundreds of us to save all of the hotel soaps and shampoos we collect from vacations and conferences. She collects them all, sorts them and then donates them to the families staying in Portland.

“I’m not talking about a few handfuls of items. It’s hundreds and hundreds of soaps, toothbrushes, shampoos, toothpaste—all those little things people need but would probably forget because their minds are on taking care of their sick kid.”

With the 10-year anniversary of her son’s diagnosis and her 50th birthday around the corner, Martha wanted to do something more to celebrate her son’s 10-plus years of remission.

“Ten years cancer free is a big mile marker, and I just wanted to pay it forward,” Martha says. “I know it seems like a little thing, but the socks they give out at the hospital are thin and plain and they aren’t very warm. So I thought, why not donate a bunch of decorated socks? That way the kids get to pick what pair they like. They get to have a choice, which is I think really important. They don’t get to have a choice about a lot of things when they receive cancer treatment, and they get to be warm and a little more comfy during their stay.”

After placing her request in the October 2018 issue of Ruralite magazine, Martha received another outpouring of support: more than 425 donations in the form of socks, cash and personal stories from cancer survivors.

“It was really emotional for me,” Martha says. “I wasn’t expecting that kind of turnout. It was so wonderful to hear from people who went through the same experiences my family did, that I decided to personally write back to each of the cancer stories I received.”

Martha’s humble yet goodhearted nature proves to be her most consistent and endearing quality.

“She is just a very caring person,” Kelly says. “If you are down and out, she’s the first one to send you a card in the mail. Even to just coworkers that she doesn’t know very well. I swear she has a drawer full of birthday and get-well cards in her office drawer ready for whenever someone needs a pick-me-up.”