A cancer survivor has created an anthology packed with handwritten letters of “encouragement, humour and love” written by strangers to other women with breast cancer.
‘Dear Friend’ by Gina L. Mulligan contains notes written by cancer survivors, their friends and family members, designed to show other patients they are not alone.
Gina was inspired to start collecting the letters after being diagnosed with breast cancer herself at the age of 40 and realising “a few words on paper are more than just a keepsake”.
She began handing out letters to other cancer patients and what started as a small gesture of goodwill in her local community soon turned into a global movement.
Gina, who lives in Sacramento, California, says being diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after her 40th birthday was “a shock”, but it wasn’t the diagnosis itself that changed her life.
“The true change came a few weeks later when I started receiving well wishes. I received over 200 letters, mostly from friend of friends,” she says.
“The letters said I was already a hero without telling me I needed to try a special diet or exercise plan.”
Gina, who was a novelist before compiling ‘Dear Friend’, says receiving letters helped her to emotionally “heal” after she’d finished her physical cancer treatment.
“I began wondering if other breast cancer patients were receiving this special form of support,” she says.
“After I won my battle with breast cancer, I knew just what I had to do.”
In 2011, Gina and her husband started the Girls Love Mail (GLM) movement. The couple and a few of their friends would sit around their kitchen table and write letters to women with breast cancer. Gina would then drop the letters off at cancer centres across the state.
“Then the word got out and more letters starting coming in. People wanted to help,” she explains.
“Anyone with a desire to encourage a woman can write a letter. All it takes is a little time and the cost of a postage stamp.”
To date, more then 80,000 letters have been sent to GLM for cancer patients and now, some have been compiled in a book so more women across the world can experience their benefits.
Some of the letters in the book contain the neat, careful handwriting of children while others reveal the swirling, barely legible writing of well-wishers much older - but that’s part of their charm.
The notes contain jokes, personal anecdotes or a simple few words of encouragement an it’s clear they make a difference.
The GLM website contains a whole host of thank you notes written by patients who received the letters.
One women, called Grace, says: “I was just diagnosed with breast cancer. At my doctors office I was given a bag with a lot of information. Inside was a Girls Love Mail envelope. It brought me joy when I was at a loss. I keep it with me for inspiration.”
Another woman, Dagmar, say: “Thank you all for your letter. This is the second time I have breast cancer. It came back after 17 years in the same breast I survived it before I can do it again.”
Gina refers to each GLM letter as “a gift” because of the undeniable joy they bring women.
“In this age of text messages and emails, a hand-written note is precious and restorative,” Gina says.
“Caring doesn’t take grand gestures. Caring can be found in a piece of paper and a pen.”
View some of the letters below or purchase the book online now.
‘Dear Friend’ by Gina L Mulligan (out now, Chronicle Books, £12.99).