Nonprofit gives recovering breast cancer patients support and independence

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

These South Jersey women are used to delivering reclining lift chairs to strangers.

“That chair has a story. Every chair has a story, just like these women, and they all come together,” said Danielle Stuffo, co-founder of The Recovery Chair.

The women who’ve received the chairs have something in common — they’ve all had a mastectomy and almost all have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Delanco resident Christina Marshall tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation. The 31-year-old mom chose to have an elective mastectomy. She received the chair prior to surgery.

“When I saw their smiles I was like OK, these women are my friends. I know these women are here to take care of me,” Marshall said.

Mount Laurel residents Stuffo and Danielle Koening launched the nonprofit The Recovery Chair after watching a commercial about a similar organization out-of-state. At the time, their friends were recently diagnosed with breast cancer and they knew the chair would help post-surgery. They each purchased the first two chairs. The American Cancer Society indicates in 2018, more than 266,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer, along with about 2,550 men. In New Jersey, more than 8,550 women will be diagnosed with the disease.

Eventually the founders were flooded with emails from strangers interested in donating chairs. Now they have more than a dozen. Each chair comes with a journal that is passed along so it’s filled with encouraging words, support and advice from other women during their recovery process.

“It really is such a need, and it’s a need that you don’t realize until you are in that position,” said Marlton resident Dawn Evans. “It really is heartwarming to know there’s that support. It really means a lot. It gives you an independence. It gives you a comfort.”

Evans was the first recipient.

“You have limited use of your arms. I had limited use of my stomach muscles, so just to be able to do something as simple as stand up and get up would not have been possible without somebody’s help,” she said. “So the purpose of the chair, it allows you to do that without someone being there with you.”

The women keep the chairs for three to four weeks. They’re stored in donated space in a Moorestown warehouse. The chairs are professional cleaned and sanitized. The nonprofit relies on donations to cover the cost. The founders hope to eventually receive enough funds to purchase a van. For now, they’ve been using their own cars to make deliveries.

“It’s very humbling to be able to help someone in this way because we are really just dropping a chair off, but I feel like they feel like a lot of stress is being relieved when they see us,” Koenig said.

“When we’re leaving, it’s another friend. It’s somebody that we’re able to connect with, and we’re able to connect that person with that chair is a connection,” Stuffo said.

The chairs are all named for one of the recipients, another reminder that these women are battling cancer together.

“After recovering, I’m going to be right behind them to make sure that the word gets out, the love keeps going and the healing keeps happening,” Marshall said.