In July 2020, Julie LaGrange received some of the worst news one can receive: a diagnosis of stage two breast cancer. After battling for a year and a half and coming out cancer-free, LaGrange became determined to help current cancer patients by starting a grassroots non-profit organization called We Fight Together. In March 2022, the non-profit launched, and she began delivering care packages to local cancer centers and hospitals.
As LaGrange can attest, starting a non-profit alone is no easy task. But through an outpouring of love from community and a generous surprise donation from her colleagues, it became clear that LaGrange, lead administrative assistant to the associate dean of undergraduate programs in Purdue University’s Polytechnic Institute, was not alone at all.
So, what exactly is We Fight Together? As I sat down with LaGrange over a cup of coffee, her eyes lit up as she explained how the non-profit came to be. After her diagnosis in 2020, LaGrange visited her hometown of Lebanon, Indiana. While she was in town, a friend of a friend and a past neighbor of hers gifted her a care package as a gesture to say, “You’re not alone.”
LaGrange told me how much this touched her, to know that someone — even someone she hadn’t seen for years — was thinking of her in such a hard time.
She decided then that when she recovered, she would figure out a way to do the same for others, to give them a feeling of community in their darkest moments. When I remarked it was incredible that she was thinking of how to give back even in such a tumultuous time, she said, “I had to think that way. I couldn’t get down in the mud. I had to try and think positive, think of the future, and keep moving on.”
"I couldn't get down in the mud. I had to try and think positive, think of the future, and keep moving on." — Julie LaGrange on why battling cancer inspired her to help current patients know they’re not aloneOver the last year, LaGrange has been delivering care packages to IU Cancer Center and Franciscan Health’s Faith, Hope, and Love Cancer Care. For our interview, she brought a typical care package to show me the contents, complete with her empowering logo of a flexing bicep brandished on the side of the bag. As she pulled out blankets, lotions, mints, and other small comforts, she explained the thoughtful reasons behind each item.
“Chemo can make you a bit cold,” she said. “Of course, the hospital gives you a blanket, but I want them to feel more at home.” What makes the packages personal, however, is the letter written by LaGrange included in each one, detailing her own journey with cancer and inviting the reader to become a part of an online community of other survivors.
“Making a connection is so important,” she said while we spoke about how isolated cancer can make someone feel. And made a connection she has — the packages are now highly requested by hospitals. When a center runs low, LaGrange heads over with a carload. As of early 2023, We Fight Together has delivered over 400 care packages.
If you can believe it, this already heartwarming story gets even sweeter. Not only has LaGrange created her own community of survivors, but her Purdue peers have also rallied around her in support. During the launch of We Fight Together, Purdue Polytechnic’s student services staff got wind of LaGrange’s efforts and requested she share her mission during a meeting with colleagues. Afterwards, LaGrange was shocked at the overwhelming amount of love and donations. What she never expected, however, was to arrive at work two weeks later and find 13 handmade fleece blankets on her desk, surrounded by the academic advising staff, smiling ear to ear.
The thoughtful project was organized by Zach Oborne, academic advisor in the Polytechnic’s Department of Computer and Information Technology, whose mother was also going through chemo at the time. He explained that directly after the meeting he knew what to do, recruited his fellow advisors, and drove to a local craft and fabric store. They worked through their lunch break, tying together each blanket by hand.
“It was the least we could do for Julie, since she’s done so much for us,” Oborne said. “She’s a rock star.”
We Fight Together plans to continue to fight cancer by helping survivors each step of the way. LaGrange is currently working with Purdue’s Center for Healthy Living to set up support groups for people battling cancer and those who have lost a loved one to the disease.
If you are interested in participating in one of these groups, please consider filling out this survey. To donate to We Fight Together, please do so through Venmo (https://venmo.com/wefighttogether). Join the We Fight Together Group on Facebook or email LaGrange directly at wefight2G@gmail.com.