Legacy Kits Help Patients Leave Lasting Memories for Loved Ones

By Pat Carragher - July 02, 2021

We all want to be sure our loved ones have something to remember us by. At Moffitt Cancer Center, the Social Work and Arts In Medicine Departments are helping patients make sure their memory lives on. Despite modern advancements in cancer care, not every patient will find a cure. Sometimes chemotherapy doesn’t work. Sometimes families don’t get to go home with everyone they had the day before.

It’s these “sometimes” where we can ask patients how they want to be remembered. The legacy handprint is symbolic artwork that helps those without a cure be remembered for generations. It serves as a memento of their personal touch, identity and the mark they have made on others’ lives.

Artist in residence Cat Thomas and social worker Caroline Ciszkowski help a patient make a hand print.

“At its most fundamental level, it can be a meaningful way for families to share precious moments with each other and oftentimes I’ve witnessed it become a powerful coping tool, providing loved ones with something to hold onto,” said Kristin Beauvois, artist in residence at Moffitt. “It is through this sacred practice that we hope to offer support and comfort while assisting the family in creating a lasting memory.”

The legacy kits started with a community organization called “Hank’s Hope of Tampa Bay.” Hank passed from cancer in 1982. Hank’s family approached Moffitt in October with the opportunity to fund something that offers patients and families the gift of a memory.

“We had started talking about legacy activities and there was an immediate light bulb moment,” said Sean Powell, director of Social Work and Patient Support Services at Moffitt. “We suggested enhancing our legacy kits by offering the handprints, legacy bracelets and memory lanterns. They thought it was a great idea and funded the project.”

The handprint is made using an inkless wipe. A social worker and artist in residence can help the patient press their hand on a blank sheet of paper and hold it still long enough for the ink to develop. When the patient removes their hand, their print is left behind as a lasting memory of them. They can add their own touch to their handprint as well. Maybe a quote from their favorite book or a message they would like to share with their family. It can be anything they choose to help them feel like they will be remembered.

Jolene Rowe, manager of inpatient social work

Once the patient is finished adding their personal touch, our team provides their family with a frame to take the handprint home in. They can also preserve and share the handprint by scanning the image and saving it digitally. That file can be used to order other legacy pieces like engraved ornaments or jewelry.

“It’s really appropriate at any stage of a patient’s illness. It’s about leaving something behind for the people they love,” said Jolene Rowe, manager of inpatient social work at Moffitt. “Many times, we have the opportunity to talk to a patient early on in their diagnosis about ways they would like to capture memories, whether it’s storytelling, leaving special recipes or capturing photos. There’s so many ways that patients can create those tangible memories.”

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