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Folding cranes gives cancer patients wings

Mandy Morris, 25, folds origami cranes while her mother Michelle attaches them to cards for cancer patients at Woodwinds Health Campus in Woodbury. The two volunteer for the monthly sessions through Cranes of Hope. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 4
Volunteer Chris Lund of Shoreview participates in a monthly crafting workshop at Woodwinds Health Campus in Woodbury. The informal club, called Cranes of Hope, creates cards for cancer patients. Each card features an origami crane and an inspirational message. William Loeffler RiverTown Multimedia2 / 4
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Cancer survivor Jeanne Reeve founded Cranes of Hope, a volunteer group that meets once per month to make cards for those dealing with cancer and other illnesses. Each card features an inspirational message and a paper origami crane. Submitted photo courtesy of Cranes of Hope4 / 4

It began with a single square of paper, creased and folded into the shape of a crane. Then Jeanne Reeve made a second. And a third.

Reeve turned to the ancient Asian art of origami while she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. While in the waiting room during her first visit to her oncologist, she encountered a young man who was showing others how to fold cranes. He had folded 1,000 cranes for his own mother, and Reeve was inspired to try to fold 1,000 cranes herself.

“I think it’s a Japanese tradition that if you fold a thousand cranes you get a wish to come true,” she said.

She eventually reached the thousand mark and, coincidentally or not, has been cancer free since. Presumably, she redeemed those crane frequent flier miles.

“I’m not going to say ‘no,’” she said when asked if she got her wish. But folding the cranes got her through difficult times.

Five years later, she’s still folding cranes. So are her fellow volunteers at Cranes of Hope, the organization she founded in 2014. The group meets once a month at Abbott to create greeting cards that are sent to cancer patients at Woodwinds Health Campus in Woodbury, Piper Breast Center and Gilda’s Club.

“Even doing the cards helped me to get through a lot of difficult times,” Reeve said. “There’s a lot of healing in making the cards and giving them to someone else to give them a little joy or a little bright point in their day. There’s a lot of power.”

Susan Lombardi became a fan of the crane cards. Lombardi worked as a cancer care nurse navigator at Piper Breast Center at Abbott. When she took a job at Woodwinds Health Campus, she contacted Reeve about starting a Cranes of Hope chapter there. She and volunteer Diana Hanson of Woodbury organized the first card-making workshop in April.

Besides bringing cheer to beleaguered cancer patients, the sessions themselves became an informal support group for card makers, who include cancer survivors, caregivers and those who have lost a loved one to the disease.

“When you’re diagnosed with cancer. People do come forward and say “How can I help you?’” Lombardi said. “When you get through the actual treatment and you’re on the other side of it, so many cancer survivors say, ‘How can I give back?’”

Volunteer Chris Lund of Shoreview lost her husband Doug to cancer nearly four years ago.

“It’s really fun to make a card and imagine someone reading it,” she said.

Craft materials are provided free of charge. Volunteers can come and go as they please. For those who can’t fold anything but laundry, there are ringers like Mandy Morris, who provide a steady supply of cranes in red, gold and psychedelic hues. Morris, 24, said she’s been folding birds since she was a girl. She and with mom Michelle of Woodbury are regulars at the Cranes of Hope sessions.

“When my sister and mom suggested it to me, I thought, ‘Finally, I can put this to use,’” she said.

“It only takes a minute. One thousand different people will get something that hopefully makes them smile.”

The next Cranes of Hope is scheduled for 1:30-8 p.m. July 13 at Woodwinds Health Campus auditorium C. People can come and go as they please. For more information, call 651-232-0317.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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