A dozen 11th-graders have been visiting cancer patients and survivors to offer them a token of actual, tactile comfort — soft, baby-fleece, hand-sewn colorful pillow cases.
The pillow cases are all made by female state prison inmates, though the inmates never get to meet the recipients nor the girls delivering the soft goods. The inmates are involved thanks to an arrangement through a family friend of pillow-fighter Claire Loughran, 16, whose sister Libby started the group several years ago, shortly after their grandmother passed from cancer. Since its inception, the group has raised thousands of dollars for cancer as well as handed-out hundreds of pillow cases at Benedictine and the Reuner House cancer support center.
Every girl admitted to losing someone special to cancer; though some explained that though they may have been very young when that person passed, they still felt a connection through their families’ grief, and felt pain. Abbie Rose said that she saw her grandmother and her mother’s best friend pass away from cancer, and it has always stayed with her.
Since cancer patients often lose their hair as a result of treatment, the girls want to be able to gift something soft and soothing. Hence the soft fleece, chenille pillowcases in whimsical colors and patterned trim. Much to their surprise, they have found the patients’ family members to be just as appreciative and thankful for the breath of fresh life as they are for the pillowcases. “Mostly the people are curious to see why we are there,” said Claire. “We approach them and say we are Pillow Fight for Cancer and ask if they want a pillow. There are a couple of people who felt so drained and maybe weren’t up to it. But mostly everyone is really appreciative.”
In fact, school substitute Anne Bruhn Demosthenes, who has been supervising the club, said the club has received many thank-you notes from grateful recipients and family. One extremely moving letter was recently received from the family of a man who died the next day after the girls gave him his pillow: “Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness during this sad time for our family,” reads the letter. “We appreciate your concern for Sonny and bringing him the pillowcase while he was in hospice. We did have the pillowcase put on Sonny’s casket pillow so it was buried with him. This was a very touching thing for you young people to do for Sonny.”
The girls said many patients may look as ill as they feel; several of them described choking back tears during their visits, though it doesn’t prevent them from returning. A few reported that they even say a prayer for the patient. “It makes me feel what we are doing is good,” said Loughran. Abbie said the experiences even make her appreciate her own health.
Bailee Corrigan, 16, said an aunt who helped raise her died only two years ago from cancer, and the pain is still palpable. She said visiting the cancer patients was a mixed bag of confusing emotions for her, which she ultimately described as “bittersweet” — a sentiment that had many of the girls nodding their heads in agreement.
The girls said that though they only meet once a month, by and large they keep the group alive through texting and Facebook. The girls raise funds to buy the needed sewing fabrics and materials through bake sales, a “pillow fighting” booth at the school’s winter carnival, selling pillow cases and rubber bracelets and simply shaking a can outside grocery stores. Last year they were in the Relay For Life, raising $1,000. They have raised over $2,000, and are now planning a trip to Sloan-Kettering down in the city. On Thursday, February 7 the club will host a fundraiser at Desmothenes’ Main Street restaurant, Santa Fe. Any table that comes in and says they are there to support the club will have 10 percent of the total bill donated to the club for the purchase of fabric to make more pillowcases.
The club will also mail a pillow case, as they did recently for a friend’s mom. If you would like to donate or know someone of a cancer patient who could use a soft pillowcase, please contact Claire Loughran (Pillow Fight for Cancer Club), 403 Broadway, Kingston, NY 12401.
Slideshow image: Members of the Kingston High School Pillow Fight for Cancer Club. (Photo by Carrie Jones Ross)