After experiencing the emotional toll of caregiving for loved ones, Palmyra resident Madonna Watters hopes an organization she founded and named after her late sister brings a sense of peace and comfort to those who work quietly and diligently to make the last months, weeks and days of a person's life dignified.

They spend hours feeding, bathing, and giving company to sick and dying people. They help make gut-wrenching decisions that can change the course of someone’s life forever. They’re work often goes unnoticed.

But who takes care of a caregiver?

After experiencing the emotional toll of caregiving for loved ones, Palmyra resident Madonna Watters hopes an organization she founded and named after her late sister brings a sense of peace and comfort to those who work quietly and diligently to make the last months, weeks and days of a person’s life dignified.

Watters, through her organization Val’s Pals, delivered about 50 bags filled with items to make the lives of caretakers a little easier to Hannibal’s James E. Cary Cancer Center (JECCC) on Monday, July 31.

The bags contain small items — most purchased locally — to provide comfort and entertainment to caretakers and to help pass the time during a period that may make a caretaker feel isolated from others.

Tissues, notebooks, Post-It notes, candy, game books, lotions, and more filled each bag, which will go to family members and friends of cancer patients at JECCC. JECCC staff members said family members will be excited to receive the bags.

Experiences with cancer in her own family influenced Watters’ decision to start Val’s Pals.

Of the nine siblings in her family, six have been diagnosed with cancer — including breast cancer, prostate cancer, and melanoma. Valerie Jo Cauwels, who is three years Watters’ senior, passed away from breast cancer on Nov. 18, 2016, in Bettendorf, Iowa.

“Another sister and I stayed with her in Iowa for about the last ten days (of her life) with her boys and her husband,” she said.

Another sister, who Watters describes as “quite the fighter,” is battling stage four breast cancer for the third time. Additionally, Watters’ mother-in-law died of cancer. Watching her husband and his family go through what she had just experienced with the loss of her sister was difficult to watch.

Watters said through her experiences, she realized what an emotional toll cancer can take on an entire family.

“They need support just as much (as a patient),” she said. “I needed something positive to do and that’s what prompted me to start Val’s Pals.”

To raise funds for the support bags, Watters held a silent purse auction at HATS restaurant in Palmyra, which donated the space for the event. Eighty gently-used purses were donated to the auction, which she said raised $3,000. The JC Breault Memorial Committee donated $1,000 to the project.

Watters plans future silent auctions, including one in October.

Through the difficulty of cancer, Watters hopes the bags can provide a ray of sunshine to those who cancer touches.

“I really hope that caretakers can know that they are loved, that people do care about what they’re going through as well as their loved ones,” she said. “I just want them to feel like they’re cared about.”

To become involved with or to donate to Val’s Pals, contact Watters at 573-795-5755.

Reach editor Eric Dundon at eric.dundon@courierpost.com .