‘Bag ladies’ lighten the load for breast can­cer pa­tients

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - FRONT PAGE - JEN­NIFER BIEMAN

Small fab­ric bags, big act of kind­ness.

The Lon­don chap­ter of the Cana­dian Em­broi­der­ers’ Guild is cut­ting and stitch­ing away to help pa­tients at St. Joseph’s Health Care Lon­don’s Breast Care Pro­gram, cre­at­ing hun­dreds of colour­ful bags to hold post-surgery drainage tubes and re­cep­ta­cles.

The so-called bag ladies know it’s un­likely they’ll ever meet the pa­tients who re­ceive their handi­work, but it doesn’t bother them one bit.

“This is about the clos­est we can do, short of giv­ing them a hug and say­ing, ‘We’re with you,’” said Sue Hickey, a guild mem­ber and or­ga­nizer of the out­reach project. “It is so re­ward­ing, it’s amaz­ing.”

Post-surgery, pa­tients may have plas­tic drainage tubes in­stalled at their in­ci­sion site to pre­vent fluid from gath­er­ing in the area. De­pend­ing on the pa­tient, the tubes and plas­tic re­cep­ta­cles can be kept in for days or weeks af­ter their op­er­a­tion, St. Joseph’s nurse prac­ti­tioner Pat Baruth said.

The drainage lines can be long and with­out the bags, which are se­cured with a belt or string, the med­i­cal de­vices can catch on things as pa­tients move around.

Baruth said St. Joseph’s breast pro­gram wouldn’t be the same with­out the bag ladies.

“Pa­tients might not be as ac­tive or par­tic­i­pate in the things we want them to if they didn’t have ac­cess to the drain bags. This gets peo­ple out, be­ing mo­bile, liv­ing their ev­ery­day lives, which is what we want,” she said.

The ini­tia­tive, now in its 20th year, was in­spired by a guild mem­ber who had breast can­cer surgery.

The guild vol­un­teers take in medium-weight fab­ric do­nated by peo­ple in the com­mu­nity, cut it to size and use serg­ers and sew­ing machines to stitch the bags. Each one is pressed and then sent along to St. Joseph’s with a lit­tle note from the guild.

The bag ladies meet ev­ery year in the win­ter, and some­times again in the spring, Hickey said. All told, the bag ladies cre­ate at least 400 of the totes each year.

“Our ladies, they work so hard, but ev­ery one of them has a smile on their face,” Hickey said.

JEN­NIFER BIEMAN/POST­MEDIA NEWS

Mary-Fay Green, a mem­ber of the Lon­don chap­ter of the Cana­dian Em­broi­der­ers’ Guild, sews bags for breast can­cer pa­tients. Green has been stitch­ing fab­ric bags for post-surgery drainage tubes for 20 years.

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