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Organization brings warmth to chemo patients inside and out

Photo by Courtesy of Carrie O’Connor

Photo by Courtesy of Carrie O’Connor

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Even in the final stages of a terminal illness, Connie Seekins took it upon herself to bring comfort and kindness to others in her same situation; sometimes the people who have it worst are also the most selfless and fiercely empathetic to their fellow fighters.

Seekins, a patient with stage-four pancreatic cancer, brought in tote bags full of supplies for other patients. These “comfort kits” contained blankets, pillows, crossword puzzles, water, snacks, restaurant certificates and movie coupons.

Her kindness inspired Operation Chemo Comfort, an organization founded by Carrie O’Connor and her business partner Kelsey Lexow to provide hand-sewn headscarves and knitted caps to women undergoing chemo treatments. Seekins lost her battle with cancer Oct. 21, 2016, but her legacy of kindness carries on.

“It was just an amazing outpouring of generosity,” O’Connor, a Marquette College of Communication graduate and colleague of Lexow at the Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Center, said. The pair started Operation Chemo Comfort spring 2016. “Connie (Seekins) always had a strong giving spirit, she was just incredible.”

Operation Chemo Comfort started out small, but O’Connor said they are setting higher goals as they continue.

“We started off with just hats and gift certificates,” O’Connor said. “We also made up tote bags filled with comfort items. The care packages were donated to Sisters 4 Cure Inc. (a nonprofit organization for breast cancer patients and survivors) and ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis.”

“It was such a rewarding experience that we decided we wanted to keep going,” O’Connor said.

Operation Chemo Comfort’s second and most current project is to collect one thousand hats for patients at Froedtert Hospital. The drive ends Saturday, Dec. 3, and donations have already been collected from all over Wisconsin, as well as Illinois, Maine, Montana, Ohio and Oregon.

“Social media has been incredible in helping us get the word out,” O’Connor said. “People just want to contribute so much.”

“In addition to the physical and emotional burdens, cancer patients are often faced with great financial burdens,” said Kristen Herbes, community manager and special events coordinator of the Midwest division of the American Cancer Society said in an email. “Donating something like a hat or scarf is a wonderful way to ease those burdens with a much needed item that can give patients comfort while receiving treatment.”

O’Connor will meet with 15 women Saturday, Nov. 19 for a sew-a-thon. She is calling the event “Sew Much Love,” and plans to make as many double-sided scarves as possible in three hours.

Brenda Schmidt, a Milwaukee resident, plans to attend the sew-a-thon, because she wants to make a difference for patients in Milwaukee.

“One of my good friends was recently diagnosed with Leukemia but she lives thousands of miles from me,” Schmidt said in an email. “I know she spends hours receiving treatments, but I can’t get to her very easily. I am helping on Saturday because it will be something I can do to help local women that are going through the same stuff as my friend. I also hope that she has local support like this, too.”

Herbes said her experience working with cancer patients showed her how small gifts can make a huge impact.

“Every gesture and ounce of support can make a huge difference in someone’s cancer journey,” she said. “A handmade item is also a wonderful gesture to show love and support from those in the community.

Abigail Busse, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, said she supports the initiative and especially likes the personal touch of hand-making the headscarves and hats.

“I think it’s a positive and impactful way to show support for someone who’s going through a difficult experience,” she said. “The act of personally knitting or sewing the product also gives it a sense of solidarity and closeness with the receiver.”

O’Connor stressed that anyone can help out, even if they don’t sew or knit, by donating yarn, fabric or checks to buy supplies.

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