Local organizations unite to bring comfort to cancer patients


BENNINGTON >> Representatives from the Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center invited members of the Cancer Center Community Crusaders (known as the 4Cs) and the Quiet Valley Quilters Guild together Oct. 7 to mark the beginning of a new program for patients. The three organizations worked together to provide 14 handmade quilts to cancer patients whose treatment has ended because it is no longer effective to stem the course of their disease three fourths Many transition to hospice care.

Cancer patients often come to the cancer center for appointments over the course of many years. Because of this, patients and staff build deep relationships. Once a patient has transitioned to hospice care, they no longer come to the Cancer Center; both patients and staff feel that separation.

"Giving one of these beautiful quilts to a patient is a way of recognizing the significance of their journey and to continue to be there with them. It communicates that they are not alone," said Charlene Ives, MD, a medical oncologist at the Cancer Center.

The idea to give quilts arose more than a year ago. The staff had been giving personal gifts to patients to acknowledge their last treatment. These special gifts were meant to mark the transition between the end of treatment and the start of hospice care. Honoring this transition seemed to help both patients and staff to cope with the separation. Ives had been aware of other cancer treatment centers that were providing transition kits, which included quilts. She brought the idea to the Breast Care Program Leadership Team for consideration. This group includes physicians, nurses, volunteers and others.

Avis Hayden, then an SVHC employee from the Quality Department was part of this group and is a quilter and a member of the Quiet Valley Quilters Guild. She felt she might be able to interest the Guild in providing quilts for these transition kits. She researched similar programs around the country, including Peace Health in Oregon. The staff there provided the details necessary to launch a program here in Bennington. Hayden introduced the idea to the Quiet Valley Quilter's Guild — to date more than a dozen quilters have worked to sew blocks for the quilts.

Hayden worked with the Cancer Center Community Crusaders to help fund the project. When approached with the project, Hayden said, "The 4Cs were very receptive. We couldn't do this without their financial support. The Guild members provide a substantial amount of the fabric and certainly the time in design and sewing — but the larger pieces of fabric necessary for the quilt backs would have been a financial burden for Guild members had the 4Cs not stepped in"

"Most of our committee members are survivors or caregivers. So when Avis came to us with the idea of supporting patients with handmade quilts, it really resonated with us," said Joanne Holden, a member of the Cancer Center Community Crusaders. "It is nice having so many members of the community involved in this project to support patients."

Hayden also worked with the Quiet Valley Quilter's Guild to organize quilters. More than a dozen quilters sew blocks for the quilts. Group holds workshops a few times a year to assemble the blocks and finish the quilts, said Wendy Sharkey, the guild's spokesperson.

"Although we feel sad that there is a need, we are happy to be able to fill the need and give back to the community," Sharkey said.

The staff at the Cancer Center intends to choose a quilt for each patient who needs one, just as they have chosen special gifts in the past. "We will do this as a team. We hold each other up," Ives said. "The quilts stay with the patients' families after the patient passes away. It is a way of remembering this time in their loved one's life."


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