Volunteers hand make ‘comfort’ bags for cancer patients
October 29, 2013
A group of volunteer women have combined their hearts and talents to bring a little comfort to mastectomy patients at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH).
They make "comfort bags" containing items recovering patients may need: water, lip balm, an emery board, Vaseline, wet wipes, a bath sponge, back scratcher, Q-tips, tissues, pantiliners (used inside clothing instead of gauze and tape to protect clothes from wound drainage), and a shower scarf that holds drains so the patients' hands can be free.
Each bag is unique and is hand made by a volunteer, as are a memo pad (with pen), note cards, a soft flannel drain holder and pillow for comfort, and a lavender sachet that are added to the other items.
The first bag was presented earlier this month to a woman who was quite pleased to get it, according to Linda Aeschliman, nurse navigator at the SNMH Women's Imaging Center. She said about 30 women have mastectomies at the hospital in an average year.
The project was inspired by a member of a cancer support group, and supported by the SNMH Foundation's Share the Spirit Fund.
Karin Quinn, a Nevada City cancer survivor and support group member, said the idea was suggested by a women who had her surgery at another hospital where similar bags were given to patients.
"She presented the idea to us, so we talked about it with Linda (Aeschliman) and decided we would do it," Quinn said. "I came up with some suggestions for contents, and Linda went to the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation."
Quinn bought some items in bulk, and the hospital provided others. Other volunteers contributed their skills and time to the project as well. They included Pat Harper, Kitty Richardson, Linda Gambell, Carol Haynes, and Terri Nelson.
Quinn said the volunteers are coordinated by Aeschliman. New members were recruited as needs arose.
"I had a seamstress stop by whose sister had breast cancer, and the seamstress had made a comfort pillow and drain holders out of soft flannel for her," Aeschliman explained. "She loved them, and the seamstress offered to make more for other women. Then I had a volunteer who is crafty with paper. So we put it all together and it was such a fun project. The one volunteer makes the bags, another does the comfort pillow and flannel drain holder. Another made beautifully decorated note pads and cards. Another did the lavender sachets."
Ten bags were created in the initial collaborative effort.
The bags provide simple items that many patients don't realize they'll need, Quinn said. For example, a back scratcher is really handy for mastectomy patients whose movements and reach may be restricted by the surgery.
"My experience is that women want more information about what you'll need after your surgery, apart from medications," she said. "So when you're recovering and not able to be as mobile as you're used to, you'll discover that there are things you wish you had, but hadn't thought about."
Quinn said if nothing else, the bags offer patients "a nice surprise you weren't expecting."
Quinn had surgery for cancer about a year ago, and credits the support group for helping her through her recovery, aside from coming up with the comfort bag idea.
"The support group meets weekly," she said. "The value is in being able to talk to others with similar circumstances. We draw emotional and spiritual support from each other, and get great guidance from a very competent leader. She even makes us laugh."
For more information about the SNMH Women's Imaging Center, visit snmh.org, or call 530-274-6246.
All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.