First Bravery Bag being presented by Bergman to brain cancer patient.

Bill Bergman first came to Research Medical Center with a nagging headache and dangerously high blood pressure in January 2020. After numerous tests, he received a sobering diagnosis of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), an aggressive brain cancer that quickly spread to his spine.

Services and resources of Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Research Medical Center, the hospital’s comprehensive cancer program, were quickly put into action. Vickie Massey, M.D., radiation oncologist, Dr. Amandeep Kalra, neuro-oncologist, and Dr. Fran Hardaway, neurosurgeon, comprised Bergman’s primary medical team.

Acting out against cancer

To work through the family’s collective grief, Bergman’s daughter, Kaylie Bergman Baker, was inspired to start a nonprofit organization, Acting Out Against Cancer (AOAC). Bergman’s family — wife, Karen, and sons Randall and Shawn — joined Kaylie to honor their father by creating a nonprofit whose mission is to provide support, encouragement, and comfort to individuals and families facing the challenges and struggles of dealing with cancer.

A determined fighter and the definition of integrity and mind-over-matter, the 70-year-old Raytown resident didn’t allow the inoperable brain tumor to hinder his dream of helping other oncology patients facing cancer journeys. Kaylie Bergman Baker hatched plans to create Bravery Bags, the foundational purpose of AOAC that reflects her father’s lifelong passion for theatre — he appeared in more than 42 community theatre plays with 12 different theatre groups — and an overarching desire to take care of others. The family designed canvas totes and solicited donations for items geared to help hospitalized patients and those undergoing treatment.

The powerful meaning behind the Bravery Bag

“When Dad would walk into the lobby at Sarah Cannon Institute at Research Medical Center for his radiation treatments, he would ask others in the area, ‘Hey, how are you doing today?’” says Kaylie Bergman Baker. “He’d always respond with his bigger-than-life-personality and sparkle, ‘Regardless of how he felt, or of their response, he would reply with an uplifting message. I vividly remember one day, and he said, ‘We might not all be in the same boat, but we’ll get through it. We WILL get through it.’”

Bergman’s daughter got the idea for the Bravery Bags from watching her dad during his often-trying treatments.

“He loves people, is stimulating, really engages those around him,” she says. “The Bravery Bag concept ties it all together – something Acting Out Against Cancer can do to impact other’s lives. A huge part of each bag is a personalized Courage Card, a handwritten letter or quotes from cancer survivors in the battle of their life. It’s a piece of encouragement and at the bottom is the survivor’s first name, signature and type of cancer. Overall, it sends the message of ‘You are not alone.’”

The Bergman family says the symbolism of strength and hope behind the Bravery Bag concept underscores everything important to their patriarch: actions speak louder than words, how you make people feel, forget about the word cancer.

“Open the bag and know that someone else knows how you FEEL and is here for you,” explains Kaylie Bergman Baker.

First Bravery Bag presented on Tuesday

As a result of the care Bill receives and the longstanding relationships made with the care team, the Bergman family chose Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Research Medical Center as the first hospital to receive Bravery Bags. On Tuesday at 12 noon, Bergman’s dream of personally gifting another oncology patient with a Bravery Bag will come to fruition when he hands one to a young glioblastoma patient. Nine other Bravery Bags, all containing Bill Bergman’s personal message, will be distributed to other Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute Research Medical Center oncology patients and their families.

“My family and I are grateful for the exceptional care and support of the physicians and caregivers at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Research Medical Center,” says Bill Bergman. “Tuesday’s event is to not only to thank them, but the start of a legacy. The Bravery Bags are to provide comfort, encouragement, and show that positive actions go a long way in providing support. It’s how you make people feel that really matters. Spread kindness and leave a smile on the face of someone who has cancer.”

“The Bergman family’s compassion can’t be emphasized enough,” says Research Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Ashley McClellan. “Even while caring for their husband and father, Karen, Kaylie, Randall and Shawn want to provide support to others experiencing the difficulty of cancer. Research Medical Center is humbled that they want to present the first Bravery Bag to one of our oncology patients. It’s beyond inspirational for the Research Medical Center family, including Bill’s care team, to see our mission come full circle — above all else, we are committed to the care and improvement of human life.”