Khemo Buddy’s deliver Buddy Bags to the Children’s Hospital of Orange County.

By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Office of Public and Employee Communications

When a CDCR employee was diagnosed with breast cancer, she turned her experience into action and founded a charitable organization to help others struggling to get through the same situation.

For 22 months, Kym Keyes battled breast cancer. Four years ago, she founded Khemo Buddy’s, a charitable organization focused on helping others undergoing cancer treatment.

Case Records Analyst Kym Keyes is a cancer survivor and founder of Khemo Buddy’s. Photo from KhemoBuddys.org.

Keyes, a Correctional Case Records Analyst who works for the Division of Adult Parole Operations’ Parole Case Records in Rancho Cucamonga, said her diagnosis and treatment sparked her passion to help. She and a group of dedicated volunteers create bags stuffed with items patients find useful.

“Honestly, I feel like this is my life’s work,” she said. “It’s almost like I was allowed to get cancer for this purpose solely. It is the best thing, outside of raising two amazing individuals, that I have ever done and it fuels me daily.”

When she started, she found support in CDCR.

“This department (facilitated) our first donation, I think it was around $200,” she said. “They actually set up a display with our bag, and the contents of the bag for people to see, along with a donation can. That was and is still a really big deal for us. It gave us a much needed boost.”

On Dec. 9, her charity will be solely focused on children battling cancer with the Kids Helping Kids event.

“During the holidays, Khemo Buddy’s focus is on Pediatric Oncology, and the hospitals that care for them,” she said. “There are thousands of children that are unable to go home for the holidays and have inpatient treatment, while other kids are out on bikes celebrating with family.”

The event will have kids in charge of stuffing and organizing the Buddy Bags.

“It teaches our kids early how to give back to our community,” she said. “We will have a Boy Scouts of America pack, a soccer team, a basketball team, and many other kids in the community coming out to prepare Buddy Bags for children in cancer treatment. This event is slated to have dozens of people helping to produce 150 bags for Children’s Hospital of Orange County, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, City of Hope Children’s Hospital, Loma Linda Children’s Hospital, and Rady’s Children’s Hospital of San Diego.”

The Buddy Bags contain soft fleece blankets, fluffy socks, ginger ale, bottled water, saltine crackers, pretzels and activity books such as word searches, crossword puzzles and sudoku puzzles.

She said doing the charitable work has been very rewarding.

“I mostly love hearing the comments from the oncology staff and the look on faces, when I am actually able to go myself,” she said. “The volunteers there are always good with feedback that brings them to tears.”

Buddy Bags are stuffed and organized, waiting for recipients.

She said when she started undergoing treatment, she was alone, but watched a single mother with two young children in tow begin her treatment.

“While treating in my first treatment center, I was alone mostly, because the people in your family can’t stop their lives while you treat for cancer, it’s just not realistic,” she said. “Well, I watched a single mother, who didn’t speak very much English, bring her two small babies. They couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3 years old. She would sit very helplessly and take her very harsh treatment for about eight hours, and her kids would watch TV and eat fruit. Well, that’s when I think my Buddy work was born. I started bringing in a little more snacks and activity books and crayons for all of us. I started waiting until she was done, so that she wouldn’t have to take the bus with her kids, and my son and I would take her and the kids home. I think that time was when I felt most like my brother’s keeper.”

Keyes is no stranger to charity.

“I think we should all do as much charity as possible. I worked with the California Highway Patrol’s CHiPs for Kids for a very long time, and before that various other charity organizations. My parents were charitable and raised us to be, and I raised my kids to also be. I never thought I’d have one of my own, but honestly, I believe it was my destiny,” she said. “It is my third child and I couldn’t ask for a better gift.”

She faced many hurdles during her treatment.

“Anything that could go wrong, went wrong,” she said. “I had to medically retire (for a while), which caused my family a devastating financial loss. The not knowing (was frightening) since I was the first ever family member who had ever had cancer and cancer treatment. There were challenges like pneumonia, PTSD, loss of teeth, hospital visits and blood clots that keeps me on blood thinners for the duration of my life. So although I had many many challenges, I can see now it was my set-up to do the work that I am doing today.”

Keyes credits her experience with making her who she is today.

“I have truly no complaints. Cancer and its treatment has made me a better person. It’s made me a more humble and caring person and I thought I wasn’t bad before. Boy, did I have some growing to do,” she said. “Khemo Buddy’s wants to make sure no treatment patient goes the chemotherapy path alone.”

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Learn more about Khemo Buddy’s