Manhattan Beach Iris Knell Chemocessories

Iris Knell, founder of Chemocessories, really didn't love her wig after going through chemo. She started matching scarves and necklaces to her outfit. Now she's doing it for others.

Inside the heart of Chemocessories, a nonprofit that donates matching hair wraps and jewelry to women going through chemotherapy, is a downright mess.

Now that her three daughters are all in college and beyond, breast cancer survivor Iris Knell has taken to storing scarf upon scarf and necklace upon necklace in one of the girls' bedrooms. Instead of transforming the bedroom into a gym, she decided to make it a workspace.

For the Manhattan Beach nonprofit that began in 2012 as Knell's passion project, donations have expanded each year. She is close to passing the 1,000 mark of sets donated to women affected by cancer and chemotherapy.

This year realtors Caskey & Caskey is donating a portion of all new business in October to Chemocessories. For Knell, it could mean the start to a proper work space, instead of her daughter's bedroom.

“We want to use the funds to help get the message out, so more people can benefit from our services,” she said.

Chemocessories began simply because Knell needed to still feel pretty—even during the rigors of chemotherapy. Knell was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. At 50, she didn't have a family history of cancer, or even feel a lump. She went in for her annual mammogram, which detected abnormalities.

“If I had not gone that year, I don't know what my prognosis would have been,” she said.

So she went through chemotherapy.

She didn't love her wig. It was hot, and it didn't feel right. Instead, she started to match her accessories—scarves, turbans, necklaces and the like—with her outfit.

“A lot of people had no clue I was sick,” she said. “They thought the accessories were part of my outfit.”

After finishing treatment, a friend asked if Knell could put together a little set for her mother who was going through chemotherapy. Knell found a pair of blue button earrings and a blue turban that she no longer needed, and Chemocessories was born.

Groups such as the Neptunian Woman's Club of Manhattan Beach and Sandpiper Juniors have donated pieces and sets to Knell.

“If we all open our drawer in our bedroom, we say 'I'm not really wearing this necklace, or this pair of earrings,'” she said.

Still, what Knell has are mostly donations of materials, not money. Her nonprofit needs some cash flow to ship sets outside of the South Bay. Receiving a monetary donation from Caskey & Caskey will be a big help for her eventual plan, said Knell, which is to make Chemocessories a true community project.

"I envision the community being more involved, and it being a wonderful community service for different organizations. That's not the kind of thing you can do in our home,” she said.

Caskey & Caskey decided to focus their donations on organizations that can directly affect the local community in the South Bay. Last year was the first year they started their drive for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For the month of October, the company has turned their listing signs pink for awareness. Last year was a success, but this year is proving to an even bigger one.

Dave Caskey, of Caskey & Caskey estimated they'll double their amount raised from last year, which was around $5,000.

Last year, the drive was a little harried. Deanna Whipp, an executive assistant at the company, attended a funeral for a friend who had just died of cancer. In a conversation at the office, they all realized they knew someone who had been affected by cancer. The realtors raised the $5,000 in just three weeks, and opted to donate to Cancer Support Community-Redondo Beach.

"We wanted to have an immediate and local impact," Caskey said. 

This year they'll be splitting the donations between the Cancer Support Community and Chemocessories. Whipp said that the company felt it was important to keep the donations inside the community.

“We don't feel like our little $5,000 is going to make a big difference in the research bucket, but if we give to the support bucket, then it could go to our neighbors, our friends, or their children. It could make a huge difference.”

For more information or to donate, visit chemocessories.org.

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