Extension Where You Are: Strategic Stitches

4 women holding mastectomy drain pouch bags—small, square sacks laced with ribbon

MHV & Delta Cotton Belles Partner to Help Cancer Patients

Story by Susan Collins-Smith • Photos by Kevin Hudson

When the Delta Cotton Belles needed help with their breast cancer support program, they called on the Greenville Area Town and Country Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers club.

The two Washington County volunteer organizations recently came together to provide breast cancer patients with mastectomy drain pouch bags—small, square sacks laced with ribbon and worn around the neck or over the shoulder under clothing. The bags are made of soft, thin flannel material and hold drain tubes patients have after mastectomies.

Two women's hands touching quilted mascetomy pouch bags.

The Delta Cotton Belles provide breast cancer education, screening, and support to women who are diagnosed with breast cancer and live in a 10-county area. The Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers program, or MHV, is a statewide leadership program delivered through the Mississippi State University Extension Service. MHV clubs engage in public-policy education and community-service projects.

“One of the things we do as part of our Wrapped in Pink service is give patients a post-surgical care package,” explains Docia England, Delta Cotton Belles member. “We had given one of these Beth’s Blessings Bags to the mother of a young lady who was having surgery in Jackson. Later, she told me that her daughter loved our bag, but the most helpful thing she received from the hospital were the drain pouches.”

So the group got excited about providing the mastectomy drain pouches to their clients, but they had one major stumbling block.

“I don’t sew,” laughs England, who heads the mastectomy bag project for the volunteer organization. “So I mentioned the project to everyone I could until someone suggested I check with the local MHV club.”

The Greenville Area Town and Country MHV club had just gotten four new sewing machines and were looking for more projects to take on.

“Our club is happy to be involved in this project,” says Alma Harris, Extension agent in Washington County. “We’re all aware of breast cancer, and almost everyone knows someone who has been diagnosed. We hope patients’ spirits are lifted a little when they get these bags to help them through the weeks that follow surgery.”

To date, the MHV club has sewn 170 mastectomy bags distributed by the Delta Cotton Belles. At the monthly meeting, MHV members gather at the Extension office to have lunch and plan or work on their current projects.

“We always have a great time,” says Harris. “Since we’ve been doing sewing projects, each member has found something they can contribute, even if they don’t know how to sew. Some cut out the pattern pieces. Others thread the ribbon through the completed pouch, and some iron.”

Gladys Briggs joined the MHV club about 5 years ago when she retired from Greenville High School, where she taught family and consumer sciences for 35 years. She has a wealth of sewing experience that comes in handy on projects like this. But breast cancer is personal for her.

“When Docia came to us about making the bags, I thought it was a great idea,” Briggs says. “My sister died from breast cancer when she was 35 years old. They diagnosed her on a Monday, and she died on Thursday. I raised her daughter, who was 4 years old when she died.”

MHV members plan to continue the mastectomy bag project, which has been well received by patients who get the bags.

“I’ve met with well over 200 patients, and they have such a strong faith and a great appreciation for anything you do for them,” says England, who personally delivers most of the Wrapped in Pink care packages to recipients. “They all like these bags, which help keep the tubes contained and keep them from getting caught on things and pulling.”

Some fabric and ribbon for the bags was purchased with MHV club funds, while other materials were donated by MHV members.

For more information about the Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers leadership program, contact the local Extension office or visit the Extension website at http://extension.msstate.edu/mhv. To learn more about the Delta Cotton Belles and their breast cancer programs, visit their website at http://www.deltacottonbelles.org.

MSU Extension Service
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