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Sienna McHugh was only 8 years old when her mother, Joy, was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer in 2016. Joy was just 39.

Sienna holding some of her Prayer Beads.

Now a patient at Moffitt, Joy was originally enrolled in a clinical trial at Tampa General Hospital, which included chemotherapy and radiation. While undergoing treatment, Joy said Sienna began surprising her with heart shaped notes with a string of colorful beads attached.

“She would slip them into my purse before chemo, or I would find them in the shower or under my pillow at night.”

After a conversation with her daughter, the pair decided it would be nice to spread this joy to other patients, as well as the doctors, nurses and staff who care for them.

“She (my mom) kind of liked them and it really made her happy and gave her hope,” Sienna said. “I wanted to do it for other people, too.”

It takes Sienna about 10 minutes to create each heart, which includes an inspiring message and a string of colorful beads, each one handpicked and each combination unique. “I try to make them as often as possible,” she said. Sienna even has a website where patients can place a special request for prayer beads.

Although Joy has been in remission twice since her initial diagnosis, she’s been diagnosed again with stage 4 cancer, which has spread to her lymph nodes. In April she began a clinical trial at Moffitt and is actively undergoing treatment.

Sienna has distributed the prayer beads herself, but Joy brings them with her to every appointment at Moffitt. She’ll place them around for patients and staff to find and also hands them out in person.

“People often cry when they receive them. I cry with them. There’s usually a lot of hugging and sometimes praying together,” Joy said.

Sienna and Joy at Moffitt Cancer Center.

It’s a small and simple gesture but one that brings a little joy and hope to those going through a hard journey.

“With cancer, you feel helpless. Everything is so hurry up and wait,” Joy said. “This cheers people up in a place where there is so much sadness.”

Sienna says it also helps her feel like she’s helping, she’s doing something. “It makes me feel good when I see that what I’m doing is making people happy.”

Joy said Sienna’s ultimate goal is to be able to create a Prayer Beads for Joy tree that can be continually filled for patients and others to take whenever they need them.