Sewing Group

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COLUMBIA - For many, sewing is a century-old hobby that results in soft scarves, itchy sweaters and loose socks. But for five woman at the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, it's a way to give back to some people who could use some assistance.

"I do it because I enjoy it and it makes me feel good to do something for somebody," said Dorothy Whitney.

Whitney, alongside Ethel Okker, Joyce Anderson, Elaine Trout and Nancy Sandfry meet biweekly in a small conference room tucked away in the hospital, bringing with them three things: rolls of fabric, a positive attitude and some sewing machines.

"First we come and have lunch downstairs, then we talk about our lives and joke about things; we have a good time as well as going something useful," Sandfry said.

The group sews items that make things a bit easier for patients, including various types of hats for patients undergoing chemotherapy and small chest pillows and drainage bags for breast cancer patients who have a mastectomy.

"Sometimes we get a special request for a particular hat, and as long as we have the fabric needed, it feels good to make something they really wanted," said Okker, whose been sewing in the group for 13 years.

The group uses both donations from the community as well as funding from the hospital to purchase the fabric they use. However, they do not receive any kind of pay.

So why did this group of women take on such a tedious task? Because it's their way of giving back.

"If you haven't gone through cancer you wouldn't have any idea how important that is - to know that somebody you don't even know cares enough to make you a hat, to make you feel better," said three-year member Joyce Anderson, the newest addition to the group.

While all of the ladies agree that sewing for the patients brings them joy, some of the women feel a closer connection to patients:

"I've had friends who have gone through chemo and lost their hair and were happy to have us make their coverings," Sandfry said. "I'm a breast cancer survivor too. I didn't have chemo or lose my hair, but it comes closer to home."

Okker's husband died from cancer. She said the excellent care he received is what inspired her to help patients.

"Every time I cut out a hat I think of him," she said.

Elaine Trout is a retired nurse.

"I didn't have patient contact anymore and this is some way to have indirect contact with patients," Trout said.

While the ladies said they don't expect to receive thanks, they do enjoy it when patients are appreciative of the free items.

"All of us really enjoy what we're doing, so it makes us feel really good when we get a letter," Whitney said.

Okker echoed this sentiment.

"We have seen people walking around here with our hats on and it makes us feel good," she said.

Edlyn Donovan, the group's supervisor said, "They do it for a reason. All though they have fun that's not there main purpose - they want to give back."

The group is actively recruiting additional sewers. Those interested can find more information on the hospital's volunteer page.