The Story of Casey Schade, Creator and Founder of A Cancer Fundraiser Called Caps4Cancer

  • Photos by:
    Shane Yoshiyama @sjyoshiyama
  • Published on:
    December 17, 2021
  • Reading time by:
    6 minutes

Meet Casey Schade a registered nurse working in the specialty of oncology. Casey Schade started a fundraiser called “Caps4Cancers” in May of 2019. Schade wanted to do something extra to support her cancer patients other than just providing them with bedside nursing care. Schade started collecting the lids of medicine vial caps from work and used these items to create unique designs for retractable badge holders. Schade made designs such as colorful flowers, animals, movie characters, princesses, etc. She would sell the badges on her unit and on Etsy. 

As the demand for her badges grew, other units started collecting caps and buying badges. After deducting small production costs, Schade donates all the proceeds of the sales to different nonprofits every month that help people with cancer. Previous nonprofits include Be The Match, St. Jude, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, etc. In less than 4 months of operation, Schade sold over 300 badges, donated over $2,200 to nonprofit cancer charities, and saved over 35 pounds of medicine vial caps from going into a landfill. As many staff now wear their Caps4Cancers badges, patients often express their appreciation and love for the badges and the support they provide. Staff that purchased the badges were surveyed post-purchase and over 80% of staff reported increased job satisfaction and an increased sense of resiliency after implementation of the Caps4Cancers project. The demand and excitement for this project was so high on the oncology units that word spread to other units whose staff also purchased badges. 

To date, Caps4Cancers has sold a successful amount of badges, raised, and collected pounds of plastic. Not only has this project raised a significant amount of funds for the oncology community, it is also a way to bring hope and humanity to people that are going through rough times. For the holidays, Schade organized an art workshop with her staff and they created holiday ornaments for the patients in the oncology units at our institution. 

‘’Words cannot express the joy and gratitude that patient’s felt from receiving these gifts and hearing the story behind how they were made. There was a patient in my unit that was very sick and in the hospital for over a month. When I gave her the badge and explained the origin (I used an interpreter as English was not her first language), she cried and held my hand. I didn’t need to understand her language to understand the impact we had on her at that moment.’’  Casey Schade

Tell us in your own words about yourself:

I’m Casey Schade! I’ve been a registered nurse for 5 years and I’m 28 years old. I’m currently in grad school studying to earn my Master’s of Science in Nursing Executive Leadership. I’m the creator and founder of a cancer fundraiser called Caps4Cancers, which I started in May of 2019. When I’m not working or studying, I’m either outdoors exercising or indoors reading or relaxing with my family and friends.

What does your work entail?

I work as a Registered Nurse at Stanford Health Care and currently work as an Assistant Patient Care Manager for an inpatient Oncology unit. In my role, I prioritize supporting and empowering the staff to ensure the patients receive the best care. As an Assistant Manager, I focus on staff development and education, quality improvement projects, and patient care. It has been rewarding for me when patients have told me how incredible the staff on our unit are. I also greatly appreciate that the staff are happy with the work they are doing. There have been a lot of studies that have shown if nurses have higher job satisfaction, patient outcomes are higher. It’s very important to me to create a healthy and positive culture for my team and for the patients we care for.  

What motivated you to start a fundraiser in the first place? How did you get inspired to shape your career within healthcare?

I started Caps4Cancers because I wanted to do something more for my patients beyond the bedside care they were receiving. I started collecting the colorful, medicine vial caps from my hospital. With these caps, I would create different badge holder designs. I would sell the badges on Etsy or in person and with the proceeds, I donate the funds to different nonprofits that help people with cancer. I select a different nonprofit every month to donate to and create new badge designs on a regular basis. I’m very creative and I love having intention and meaning behind my creativity. Creating Caps4Cancers and offering my contribution to the oncology community gives me a greater sense of purpose as a nurse and as a human. Now, I am regularly creating new badge designs, selling them on Etsy or in person and donating all profits to nonprofit organizations that help people with cancer. Since starting Caps4Cancers, I have donated $17,600 to various nonprofits and salvaged over 100 pounds of plastic.

How did you start your career and what have been the key roles? Was a charity career always your goal?

Charity work wasn’t something that was initially on the forefront of my mind as a career goal. From my work as an oncology nurse, I quickly saw how quality cancer care is inhibited by a lack of funding and resources and an inequality in wealth distribution. I’ve met patients that can’t afford gas money to get to their appointments, family that commute over 100 miles a day to see their loved one because they can’t afford more local housing, or new developments in cancer therapies that don’t have enough funding to be given to patients that desperately need a miracle. The skills and strengths I have developed throughout my career helped prepare me to make my charity work a successful platform. I saw an opportunity to make a difference with Caps4Cancers and ran with it.

To answer your initial question, I started my first nursing job at 22-years-old, right out of nursing school, and worked on a Surgical Oncology unit at Yale New Haven Hospital. Everything was new and overwhelming, but I made connections with an amazing group of leaders who took me under their wings and set me up for success. Since then, I’ve taken on a variety of roles throughout my nursing career and learned something different from each experience. [I’ve pushed myself outside of my comfort zone many times and through this, I’ve learned how much I am capable of, which boosted my confidence and my career.  I earned my first position at Stanford Health Care as a travel nurse on a Hematology-Oncology floor which gave lots of chemotherapy. I was a very novice chemotherapy nurse so I joined my unit’s Chemotherapy Quality Council. As a traveler, I wasn’t paid for this time-but I chose to do it because I knew learning chemotherapy was my biggest barrier and I wanted to address this challenge head-on. Now, just a few years later, I am overseeing chemotherapy and policy development thanks to my initiative and hard-work.      

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Sit in the front. 

This is influenced by Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” where she encourages women to take a seat at the table. Growth does not happen when sitting on the sidelines or the backseat. This is also influenced by the every notorious RBG and her 60-year-old adventure of going white water rafting in Aspen, Colorado. Her colleague told her, “she should sit in the back of the boat, because she was so light that if they hit a rock, she would go flying over.” Her response: “I don’t sit in the back.”

What are the TOP-3 errors you made at the beginning of your nursing career? 

1. Being too prideful. I excelled quickly in my career and the feeling of success clouded my humility. When you stop being humble, you stop learning.

2. Not asking for help. As a new nurse, I had a hard time delegating, a vital skill that takes time to learn and develop. I wanted to do everything myself and not bug my peers for assistance. Since then, I’ve learned how that mindset diminishes the absolute necessity of teamwork. There are only so many hours in a day, so it’s impossible to “do it all”. The strongest teammates are those who ask for help wisely and offer help generously. 

3. Negative Self-Talk. I know this one sounds a little corny, but I spent a lot more time beating myself up for things that didn’t matter than time I spent celebrating my good efforts and successes to build my self-worth and confidence.

How do you promote the charity?

Overtime, I have created a platform for Caps4Cancers in my local community and on social media, especially my Instagram: A lot of my charity is promoted by word of mouth and positive social media engagement. I openly share my passion for the fundraiser and what it means to me and the patients whenever I have the opportunity to connect with folks. Passion fuels the passion of others and I’ve found that my followers and supporters have a huge impact in spreading awareness about Caps4Cancers. I also do a lot of collaborations with nonprofits to bring awareness to my fundraiser and promote their platform and their cause. 

How would you describe your leadership style and what has made it so effective?

I would describe myself as a transformational leader. I think my commitment and work ethic inspire and stimulate my team to bring out their best. I love connecting with my colleagues on an individual and understanding how to empower them to reach their full potential. I’m an active and empathetic listener and try to understand someone else’s perspective fully before jumping in with my opinions. We learn a great deal from hearing before speaking. 

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

My current personal goal is to finish my Master’s degree and continue to pursue nursing leadership. I would also love to get my Phd and study further the environmental impact of our current healthcare system. The global healthcare system is worth trillions of dollars and impacts everyone on the planet. As such, changes to this system have the power to greatly influence the state of the environment. It is clear that climate change exacerbates health disparities and inequities. I believe that as a healthcare provider, it is in part my duty to advocate for our patients, especially those already at a health-deficit due to disproportionately negative environmental health impacts. Healthcare industries are a huge producer of waste – waste that is often shipped around and incinerated which releases harmful toxins into the air that increases our carbon footprint. I would love to be a part of a solution that moves healthcare and in a more environmentally sustainable direction. As for now, I am happy finishing my masters and continuing to recycle medicine vial caps into badge reels to help fund nonprofits!

My dream for Caps4Cancers is to only use it as a fundraiser but expand it as a platform to bring awareness and impact to the greater needs of the oncology community. A few months ago, I donated 15 inches of my hair to “Wigs for Kids” and featured my transition and information on my social media. From this, I influence other people to donate their hair to an organization that helps children obtain wigs. I’ve used Caps4Cancers as a way to encourage people to sign up to donate bone marrow and blood products. I hope to continue to expand Caps4Cancers impact in these various means. My next immediate plan is to volunteer with First Descents (FD), a nonprofit that provides-life changing adventures for young adults impacted by cancer and other serious health conditions. I recently got back from a trip hosted by FD for healthcare workers effected by COVID and had an amazing time and got to reflect on my passion for nursing and oncology.

Any great story from a customer?

A few winters ago, a group of coworkers and I spent an evening together making holiday ornaments out of medicine vial caps for all of our oncology patients in the hospital over the holidays. My colleagues and I went around and passed out the ornaments to each patient. Some hung their ornaments on their IV poles or on other pieces of equipment while others decorated their hospital rooms. One patient had a particularly emotional response, as they had been having a hard time in the hospital for a few months. I was passing out ornaments when this patient broke down crying and held my hand for a few moments. While I did not speak her native language, we were able to share an understanding of the impact of this kindness and support she felt.  

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out? 

If you have an idea that you are passionate about, go for it! There will be lots of obstacles and people that may discourage you. Your passion and commitment to what you love will drive you through the challenging times. Don’t forget why you started.

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