Feb 14, 2011

Breast Cancer Comfort Pillows

TAMPA - Pillow stuffers and stitchers in Tampa today are finishing up some 750 pillows destined for the arms of breast cancer patients in four states.

They are sentimental and useful items for patients who have had mastectomies and lymph nodes removed as part of cancer treatments, said Mary Geraci, spokeswoman for Fill A Heart, a nonprofit organization that offers support to cancer patients.

"Once doctors remove lymph nodes and muscle tissue during a mastectomy, the arm and underarm are very tender," she said. These heart-shaped pillows allow for drainage and comfort.

"Some ladies keep these pillows forever. They are emotionally and physically beneficial."

Each pillow is handmade, said Laura Cordiviola, who formed the organization last year. While the pillow project is the only one undertaken now, she hopes to utilize volunteers to expand services to cancer patients and their families and caregivers.

"We want to someday sponsor women for camps and seminars," she said, as well as offering services to families of cancer patients, such as tutoring children and helping spouses with day-to-day household obligations.

The idea came to her two years ago, when she met a cancer survivor at a Pinellas County hospital. The patient, who also is a nurse, had organized a crafts group to stitch together pillows for cancer patients. They were making about 20 a month and distributing them to the hospital, Cordiviola said. From there, fliers were sent out seeking more volunteers and the nonprofit group was born.

On Friday, a group of University of South Florida students were scheduled to come in and stuff and stitch pillows, she said. This week, high school students, breast cancer survivors and others pitched in to make the pillows, she said.

The finished products are being shipped to hospitals in Florida, Kentucky, Wisconsin and New York, she said.

"My goal is to send pillows to each American Cancer Society Reach to Recovery program in the nation," Cordiviola said.

Each pillow comes with a tag with a poem, along with the first names of the pillow's sponsor, stitcher and stuffer, she said.

"That's a tangible symbol to let them know there are other people out there who really know what they're going through," she said, "that there are perfect strangers who have made them something."

The Heart Pillow Project This is a project designed to bring comfort to breast cancer patients. It's a story about the journey of breast cancer patients and a network that crosses many boundaries and settings.

The origin of the heart pillow is unknown, but it started in the US when Janet Kramer-Mai, an oncology nurse at Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. Three of her aunts made and sent her a heart-shaped pillow to use after her surgery. The pillow, which fits comfortably under the arm, can relieve pain from the surgical incision, protect against accidental bumps, help ease edema, and relieve shoulder tension. The heart pillows are given to patients immediately post-op to aid in recuperation.

There are many benefits to the heart pillow. It gives the opportunity to help breast cancer patients in a concrete and immediate way. With this gift, patients know they aren't alone and others are thinking of their needs even if they don't know them personally.

Martha Gudina, one of Sibley's OR nurses, went to an international conference and was inspired by this project and asked if our Volunteers would like to participate. If course, they said "Yes!"

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