Park City resident Susan Eckstein was diagnosed with stage-two metastatic breast cancer in 2000.

After undergoing treatment at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, Eckstein, a mother of two, went through an eight-year remission period.

In 2009, the cancer returned and was upgraded to stage four, and Eckstein has been fighting the disease for nearly four years.

She isn't alone.

Each year, 8,000 people in Utah alone are diagnosed with some form of cancer, and the holidays can be a rough financial and emotional time for their families, according to the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

So, Eckstein and her daughter, Sarah, decided to do something about it and founded Hope for the Holidays, a project that provides gifts for families of cancer patients, in 2010.

"Sarah took me to chemotherapy one day and after seeing how many people were affected by the disease," Eckstein said. "I had met a lot of cancer patients over the years and what I found was some of them were under a lot of financial duress, because it's so easy to spend $10,000 or more a month at the drop of a hat for treatment.

So, Eckstein and her daughter brainstormed about how they could help them during the holidays and came up with an idea of giving the public an opportunity to purchase gifts for the families.

"The way it works is that we decide how many families we will 'adopt' for the program and the social workers at the Huntsman will nominate the families and give us a list," Eckstein said.


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The list will include three needs clothing, outerwear, and boots and two wishes, including toys, books and other fun items for each family member, she said.

"It's compelling for us, because we have noticed that these families don't ask for expensive items, toys or games," Eckstein said. "They ask for coats, boots, socks and other essential items."

One hundred individuals mostly children are served through this program, which is focused on families whose primary caregivers are in the toughest stages of cancer treatment, Eckstein said.

Labels listing the needed items are then put onto ornaments that are hung on a Hope For the Holidays Christmas tree in the South Towne Mall in Sandy, and, in a process similar to Toys for Tots, members of the public choose an ornament, buy the item and take it to the mall's customer-service desk.

"Volunteers from the Huntsman Institute will pick up the items and a group of volunteers will wrap the gifts and take them to the Huntsman Cancer Research Center, where they will be delivered or picked up," Eckstein said.

Eckstein knows there are many people who would like to help, but can't get to the mall, so, Hope For the Holidays also created a website where people can make donations. The page is accessible by visiting www.huntsmancancerfoundation.org and clicking on the red box that says "Hope For the Holidays."

The money raised through the website will help purchase gift cards for the families, Eckstein said.

"They will include gasoline cards and grocery cards that are $100 each," she said. "Some of these people are not from the immediate area and from out of state, so we thought these items would be important."

One of the challenges for Eckstein is not knowing how many people will pick up an ornament, Eckstein said.

So, after the gift-donation deadline, which is Dec. 7, her son, David, who is a junior at Judge Memorial High School, will use some of the money that was raised through the website to buy the remaining gifts.

"David took over Hope For the Holidays when Sarah left for college," Eckstein said. "He will do it for two years and then we'll come up with some way to choose another young adult from Judge to run it, so the tradition can continue."

David Eckstein said he is looking forward to working with the public in bringing some happiness to cancer patients.

"Our wish is that the holidays will be a little brighter and happier for these families and that the generosity of others will uplift them," he said.

For nearly two years, the younger Eckstein has enjoyed running Hope For the Holidays.

"It's rewarding helping out other people, and this is something that I like to do, especially because I know what they are going through, because my mom has cancer," he said. "But I can only imagine what it is like to be under stress about having enough gasoline to get to their treatments."

Susan Eckstein said Hope For the Holidays is a personal way for her to help cancer patients.

"I know how incredibly fatiguing treatment can be, and it's very difficult, and to be a mom," she said. "I've been fighting for four years, but have had a lot of support from my family, especially my husband Fred, friends and the Park City community, but most of these patients don't have a support system, and that can be overwhelming."

There are three ways to donate to Hope For the Holidays, a program that provides gifts to cancer patients and their families. The first is to contact Lori Kun at the Huntsman Cancer Institute by emailing lkun@huntsmanfoundation.org . The second is to second is to visit www.huntsmancancerfoundation.org and the third way is to adopt a family by choosing an ornament from the Hope For the Holiday's tree at the South Towne Center. For more information, visit www.huntsmancancerfoundation.org .