Amanda Rosen is a 24-year-old mother of two who has never had cancer. But when she heard about a problem some cancer patients were having, she came up with a solution to make their lives a little more comfortable.
With help from donors and volunteers, she has produced and distributed more than 1,000 free “port pillows” – small wallet-size cushions that give patients relief from the pressure of across-the-shoulder seat belts.
The need arises when patients who are having chemotherapy get a port – a catheter through which drugs are delivered. The port is usually installed in the chest, beneath the skin and near the shoulder, and stays there throughout therapy so patients don’t have to get needle-sticks each time they get infusions.
But placement of the port can make wearing a seat belt uncomfortable. The port “sticks right out where the seat belt goes,” said Lynne Holcomb of Charlotte, who is undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer. To avoid the rubbing, Holcomb would tuck the seat belt under her right arm – “not very safe.”
Knowing that Holcomb was a Clemson fan, Rosen made her friend a 7-inch-by-4-inch pillow in an orange and purple chevron pattern. A Velcro strap wraps around the seat belt to keep the pillow in place. Holcomb said it allowed her to ride comfortably on a recent 10-hour drive.
“I’m amazed at her ingenuity and her kindness to want to do this for people,” Holcomb said. “We are taking another trip tomorrow so I’m going to be using it again. I have it packed in my pocketbook.”
Rosen, who works part time for Carolinas HealthCare System and runs a monogramming business from home, said her volunteer venture “exploded” recently after she and Holcomb appeared on the local WCNC-TV news.
Now she’s getting 20 to 30 requests a day for pillows from across the country. On her Facebook page, people ask how to get them. “Do you sell these? I am always complaining how my seat belt rubs my port,” one visitor asked. And Rosen gladly responds: “They are free!”
Her goal is to give them to “everybody who has a port.”
When she started four months ago, Rosen made a couple of pillows with fabric, stuffing and Velcro she bought herself. Her mother, Jamie Lambert, has also bought material and covered other expenses. But now, they’re getting the materials donated.
One woman sent $20, which can buy 10 pounds of stuffing to make 300 pillows. Susan Gordon, who works at Springs Creative Distributors in Rock Hill, donated about 50 yards of fabric and has promised more. The Walmart in Indian Land, S.C., agreed to donate fabric scraps regularly after Rosen gave one of her pillows to a store manager, whose sister had a port.
Other volunteers are doing the sewing. Robin Harris, who learned about Rosen’s project through Facebook, has sewn about half the 3,000 port pillows they’ve made so far, using up about 30 spools of thread. Harris said the owner of a Monroe upholstery shop gave her a bag of scrap fabric, enough to make 60 or 70 pillows.
At her sewing machine, Harris completes each pillow in about four minutes. “How else could I help people while sitting at home in my pajamas watching Netflix?” she said.
The choices of colors and patterns seem endless. There are Ninja turtles, butterflies, kittens and puppies. Characters from Disney movies and Shopkins toys. Team colors for the Carolina Panthers, the UNC Tar Heels and the Louisiana State Tigers.
Rosen has given hundreds of pillows to patients at Carolinas HealthCare and plans to expand to other groups. And she’ll send them in the mail to anyone who asks. She doesn’t require much verification. “It’s pretty much the honor system.”
Rosen, who is bald from an autoimmune condition called alopecia, said she empathizes with some of the trials that cancer patients face. As a child, she resisted pressure to wear a wig. It would have been expensive and uncomfortable, she said.
She said she doesn’t think patients with ports should have to pay extra for comfort. The pillows she saw online sell for $20 to $50 each.
“What is important are the little things in life,” she said. “Port pillows are one of those little things that make a big impact on people’s lives.”
(To obtain a pillow, contact Amanda Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.)