A St. Petersburg woman is Leaping with love for cancer patients

It was the lamp with the frog that caught her attention, first, as Vanessa Bernard sat in the waiting room for her first oncology appointment. A frog picture awaited her, down the hallway, as she walked to the doctor’s office, and then, the entire week was filled with random frog sightings on television, on clothing, in the grass and in a book. It was a sign for the breast cancer survivor to start Leaping Love – her passion project featuring carefully curated care packages to support cancer patients and their caregivers.

Born and raised in Houston, Bernard and her husband moved to St. Petersburg, in 2020.

“We love the fact that there is always something fun to do in the city and, of course, the beautiful weather and beaches,” says Bernard, who is chief advocate officer for Leaping Love.

“I was diagnosed in my 30s, in 2017, after a previous misdiagnosis. I was living in Houston, at the time, and had just gotten married eight months prior. We were trying to start a family but, unfortunately, that was derailed due to necessary treatment,” she recalls.

Starting Leaping Love, a care package company, came from a desire to make a difference and, also, to fill a void she felt during her own cancer journey.

“Ever since ringing the bell to mark my final chemo treatment, I felt a strong desire to give back and pay it forward, to the cancer community, in some form or fashion. So, I channeled my own experience and created Leaping Love, as a passion project, to turn a negative experience into a positive one by providing support for patients and their caregivers. My ultimate goal is to spread joy, and comfort, promote advocacy and remind cancer patients that they are not alone.”

Since this July, Leaping Love has sold 100 donated boxes in addition to retail sales. Care packages are priced from $70 to $108. They come in a few varieties such as the “Eat Play Love Box,” containing games, meal bars, hard candy, wipes and more. The “Loads of Love Box,” is the largest one, with 15 assorted products ranging from therapeutic items to puzzles, socks, an activity book and more.

“The Tampa Bay community has really rallied around our cause through support and networking. I attribute this to part of Leaping Love’s success,” Bernard says.

“We have carefully curated each box, with hand-picked products that focus on treating the mind, body and spirit. We have also consulted with health care professionals, cancer patients and survivors for suggestions, and approval, of all our products. Leaping Love is, however, open to partnering with other companies that may have products, or services, which align with our mission.”

And, while the company does not accept donations of goods or money, they do have a “Give A Box” purchase option.

“If you do not have a loved one going through treatment but still want to support our mission, you can purchase this box on our website. We will, in turn, give all these boxes to a cancer care facility, or a charity, on your behalf.”

Speaking of which, Leaping Love’s very first donation went to Houston Methodist Hospital. This is where Vanessa was treated and had “an amazing experience despite the circumstances.”

“I wanted to come ‘full circle,’ if you will, and pay it forward to the facility that healed me. Now, our current initiative is selling boxes that will go to patients staying at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge, in Tampa. We have created a fitness challenge that will, in turn, give boxes to patients at Hope Lodge. Our goal is to raise enough money to donate 40 boxes to Hope Lodge (they have 40 rooms total). My local gym, Sweat St. Pete, is helping us raise money for these boxes by conducting a heart rate challenge for the gym members. For every 30,000 calories burned, Sweat will give one box to Leaping Love.”

“We have also worked with Casting for Recovery, a fly-fishing retreat for women with breast cancer, and Caring Bridge, a website that offers patients a personal health journal that can be shared with friends and family. This month, we will be running the Miami Runway 5K which benefits Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and, in November, we will be running in the Miles for Moffitt run that raises funds for cancer research. And we have lots in store, and in the works, for future endeavors that will hopefully include expanding our reach to pediatric patients and volunteer opportunities. As a dog lover, and believer in human-animal bonds, I would love to partner with a pet therapy organization for patients during hospital visits,” Bernard says.

Visit the Leaping Love website to donate for the Hope Lodge. You can purchase the Give a Box option. Enter promo code HOPE, at checkout, and receive 25% off 5 boxes or more.

You can also contact Bernard if you have a specific hospital, or organization, you would like to benefit from their care packages. Email: [email protected].

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