Ball caps become wearable works of art for cancer patients
The trials and tribulations that come with a cancer fight are daunting.
A few crafters are doing their part to make it just a bit brighter for those doing battle.
Manning work stations inside a meeting room at Excela Square at Latrobe, volunteers select bright, freshly washed silk flowers, attaching them to ball caps with glue guns.
Bonnie Schall, a Latrobe resident and cancer survivor, recalls undergoing radiation treatment 19 years ago. The retired nurse is part of the group of a dozen or so who meet regularly to decorate the ball caps and make smocks and pillow ports for cancer patients at the Arnold Palmer Pavilion in Unity.
The women are carrying on work originated through Nancy G. Hoffman Complementary Medicine Services.
The group has grown, Schall says, since Naomi D’Alesandro and Peggy Kooser, both of North Huntingdon , began participating in the spring. “They came and they keep bringing more people,” Schall says.
Through her daughter Dina Denning’s business, Creative Stitches by Dina Inc., in North Huntingdon, D’Alesandro was able to donate 1,000 ball caps to the project.
After the caps were embroidered for a client, the logo was changed, and the ball caps were on their way to the garbage, D’Alesandro says.
“My daughter told the company about her mom’s nonprofit activity and suggested we could do something with them if the logo is hidden,” she says.
Covering up the logos with the flowers and other embellishments is the answer for the crafters, who turn the ball caps into one-of-a-kind creations for patients experiencing hair loss.
“Being a breast cancer survivor, it was heartfelt for me to do something like this.It’s a very trying time that you are going through. Any little spark of somebody else thinking about you is helpful,” she says.
Amy Jacobelli of Latrobe took ball caps and supplies as a mission project for a recent Camp Allegheny Women’s Retreat.
“We made about 55 hats. It was very cool. The women loved doing it. It was very well received,” she says. “It’s just letting your creative juices flow. Anyone can do it.”
The smocks close with Velcro, rather than the traditional ties. They also include pockets and feature fabric designs from sports to stripes to cats. “This is a lot nicer than a hospital gown,” Schall says.
They come in sizes from extra small to extra large, and are created from donated fabric. “If you know a sewer, they have leftover material,” Schall adds.
“I like to say that I’m a cancer survivor. When I had my treatment, we didn’t have anything like this. It would have been wonderful to have them. These are just a spot of sunlight,” D’Alesandro says of the smocks.
The port pillows, the women note, provide a cushion beneath seat belts, which can cross the shoulder where a port delivers medication to a patient through a catheter. They also are washable.
Raising patients’ spirits
Heather Huemme is the Excela Health licensed social worker who assists patients at the Arnold Palmer Pavilion through its joint venture with UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.
The volunteers, she says, have a long-established relationship with Arnold Palmer Pavilion. Patients are offered the various items the crafters make through baskets in the lobby.
“Any patient can help themselves. We fill the baskets up all the time,” she adds.
“The dignity, self-esteem, comfort and safety of patients is always in the forefront of anything we do,” Huemme says.
The soft, colorful smocks are available to patients undergoing radiation. A card provided to each patient notes that “receiving radiation therapy can be difficult, both physically and emotionally.”
“To help make you more comfortable and to give you more privacy, this cover-up has been made for you by sewing volunteers.”
“I know men and women have utilized those (port) pillows,” Huemme says. “I think the patients really benefit knowing that people are thinking about them going through treatment. I think that’s helpful.
“I have one (cancer) patient who lost her hair and she always wears a ball cap. She took two, one lighter and one darker. Every time I see her, she is wearing one,” Huemme says.
More volunteers are welcome, the crafters add.
“This has just been a great experience,” Kooser says.
Anyone interested in learning more about how to participate in or donate to this project can contact volunteer services at Excela Latrobe Hospital at 724-537-1024.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter .