Feb. 17, 2017 | A Valentine’s Day surprise brought smiles — and a few tears — to patients undergoing cancer treatment at UAMS.

Thanks to the nonprofit organization Compassion That Compels and local boutique Altar’d State, 20 women were treated to a free totebag filled with items to comfort and support them while they undergo treatment at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

Madison Bass, manager of Little Rock’s Altar’d State boutique, presents a compassion bag to UAMS patient Rita Roger. Altar’d State helped fund the contents of the bags through their Mission Monday program.

After watching her sister and two sisters-in-law each experience a cancer diagnosis within four years, Kristianne Stewart decided to take action by founding Compassion that Compels. To date, the Louisiana-based organization has distributed more than 3,300 compassion bags to women worldwide, either in person or through its website.

UAMS patient Janna Laughlin received bag no. 3,320 during what she hoped would be her last infusion treatment for a while.

After being diagnosed in June 2016 with ovarian cancer, Laughlin first underwent weekly chemotherapy treatments, which later switched to monthly visits.

“What a wonderful Valentine surprise this was. You’ve made my day,” she said, opening the bag filled with items including a blanket, journal, devotional book, mug, organic tea, gift card, mints, notebook, Valentine card and pen.

Osteosarcoma survivor Linda Guillory (right) receives a compassion bag from Compassion that Compels founder Kristianne Stewart.

Through her partnership with 37 Altar’d State boutiques nationwide and other organizations, Stewart is able to provide bags to any woman who requests one. Locally, Altar’d State, which is located in the Promenade at Chenal, donates a portion of the proceeds in September and October to help fill the bags. Manager Madison Bass and several of her employees were on hand with Stewart to hand deliver them in the UAMS Cancer Institute’s Infusion Clinic 1. They also were joined by Compassion That Compels board members Rosie and Leo Combe.

A patient in the UAMS Cancer Institute’s Infusion Clinic 1 holds a blanket she received.

“I’ve never been in a chemo chair myself, but I have been a primary caregiver and understand the stresses and challenges that go along with that. You can be in a room full of people and still feel lonely. That’s why we’re here — to remind these special women that they are beautiful, brave and never alone,” Stewart said.

Osteosarcoma survivor Linda Guillory was visiting the infusion clinic for a blood test when she was presented her compassion bag. “It means so much to have people you don’t even know show you that they care. You can feel the prayers every day, and it really matters,” she said.

This was the second year for Compassion That Compels to deliver bags to UAMS Cancer Institute patients. “There’s such a loving kindness here. You can just feel it,” Stewart said, adding that she hopes to return with more deliveries in the future.