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East County Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021 10 months ago

Lakewood Ranch teens deserve tip of the cap for donations to patients at Florida Cancer Specialists

Knitted hats, scarves and face masks are donated to Florida Cancer Specialist patients by Lakewood Ranch teens.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

As her chemotherapy treatment was beginning at Florida Cancer Specialists in the Lakewood Ranch Cancer Center, Juliet Cruz's scalp was cold.

She always had grown hair to her waist but it had fallen out after breast cancer treatments began.

"My scalp was very sensitive," she said. "Even laying on the pillow could hurt. And that air conditioning hurt my scalp ... it really did."

Then she noticed a pile of handmade knit hats in the office that were complimentary to the patients. She put one on, and it helped in more ways than one.

"For me, it's not so much the hat," said Cruz, who lives in Arcadia. "It's knowing these kids put their time into it. It was knowing they had us on their minds."

The kids are Owen Eakle, a junior at Out of Door Academy, and Toby Schwenk, a sophomore at Sarasota Military Academy. The two founded "Warrior Wear" in 2020. They solicit organizations, businesses and individuals to help them find volunteers who love to knit and are looking for a place to donate hats, scarves and face masks.

One of the key contacts to this point has been the Red Cross, which has reached out to volunteers to help the boys collect more than 70 items.

They hope to expand that reach in the future.

"It means something special to patients," the 33-year-old Cruz said. "I've had a double mastectomy in July and I am healing now. Those hats and the little prayers that churches attach to bandanas and give to us are special. It helps us mentally and emotionally."

After doctors found more cancer under one of her armpits, she needs to have more surgery to remove lymph nodes near her armpit. Her lead doctor is Janice Eakle, who is Owen's mom.

Dr. Janice Eakle reached out to Cruz to see if she would talk about the boys' effort for this story about "Warrior Wear."

"Dr. Eckle is a very private person, a phenomenal doctor, so for her to reach out to me is big," Cruz said.

Juliet Cruz, front, says she appreciates the charitable work done by Owen Eakle and Toby Schwenk.

The idea for "Warrior Wear" came from the boys themselves. They had met at Boy Scout events and became friends. Schwenk's mom, Heather Schwenk, is a physicians assistant at Florida Cancer Specialists.

Heather Schwenk said she wasn't surprised when the boys came up with the idea.

"It's just them wanting to help others as much as they can," she said. "Now the patients enjoy looking through (the knitted items). They almost always walk out with one."

Both Toby Schwenk, who lives in Panther Ridge, and Owen Eakle, who lives in East County, said they have seen the effects of cancer on family members so they wanted to find a way to help the cancer patients.

"It makes me feel good to see someone enjoying the hats," Toby Schwenk said.

"It was a colorful way to show our support," Owen Eakle said.

Although Schwenk is a swimmer and Eakle runs cross country and track, they say they will continue to dedicate their time to finding more knitting items. 

Those who would like to donate knitted items for the patients or who would like to help the cause, can contact Toby Schwenk and Owen Eakle at [email protected].

Cancer patient Juliet Cruz shows off a "Warrior Wear" hat.


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