Severna Park Middle School teacher Rebecca Jenkins taught her seventh- and eighth-grade Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) students a valuable lesson when she tasked them with creating 100 chemotherapy port pillows for cancer patients.
The pillows will be donated to the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital, a center founded to promote the research of treatment options.
“We chose to donate to Johns Hopkins because I had personal experience with an oncology doctor who changed my life with her second opinion,” said Jenkins. “Johns Hopkins was very excited about the donation and said the seatbelt chemo port pillows would be given to new patients during their chemotherapy orientation.”
Chemo ports are implanted just under the skin, usually in the chest, to provide access for drawing blood and giving treatments. The port is attached to a catheter that connects to the superior vena cava, a large vein near the heart. Living with a port is not easy for cancer patients.
“Some chemo patients have actually asked their doctor’s permission not to wear seatbelts in case they get pulled over,” said Jenkins. “The thick webbing rubs and irritates where their port is placed. These pillows allow for the safe use of seatbelts with a comfortable cushion for their port placement.”
Jenkins purchased flannel material to prevent the uncomfortable rubbing. The pillows are attached to seatbelt using thread. After teaching the basic sewing skills needed to complete the project, Jenkins taught the students about ports and the difference the pillows would make.
Eighth-grade students Ronnie McIntyre, Reese Ball, Mia Tocco and James Bent took a special interest in the project.
“I have many relatives who have fought cancer,” said Mia, who has made 15 pillows in her spare time. “When I heard it was going to Johns Hopkins – my sister is actually in there right now – so I just wanted to do something to give back.”
Ronnie took this opportunity to help her neighbor, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.
“I was just thinking about anything I could do to help him, and then this came up and it was a perfect opportunity,” said Ronnie.
She donated the first pillow she made to him. Though she could not hand-deliver it, knowing where her pillow went was “an amazing feeling.”
“I had a head cold and couldn’t go see him, but my dad told me he was crying because it meant so much to him. That made me feel really happy,” said Ronnie. “When my dad came back, he said that he likes it because he has rashes from the seatbelt hurting him. I didn’t know that was something that everyone went through.”
Every student enrolled in FACS has made one pillow, but these four students went above and beyond the classroom expectations.
Ronnie, Reese, Mia and James are considered “senior sewers,” which means they have taken sewing classes before. Jenkins relied on these four students to act as role models and help out the beginners.
While Mia has been sewing since she was 8 years old, her peers started as beginners. For James, sewing is more of a “school activity,” but that didn’t stop him from investing his free time into the project.
“I don’t have the materials to do it at home. I’m probably going to stay after school and make more,” said James. “I just wanted to help people, and Johns Hopkins is a great hospital, and they have saved so many lives.”
Reese said that while the class cannot find the cure for cancer, they wanted to make the road a little easier for patients.
“I feel like nowadays people assume that kids are consumed in electronics and don’t care about people. Even though, yeah, we watch Netflix, we are still good people,” said Ronnie.
The project encouraged students to give back to their community, and though the project is finished, they are not done.
Jenkins’ classes nearly doubled the initial goal of 100 pillows.
“I am proud that my students were intrinsically motivated to work on the project,” said Jenkins. “Middle school is a tough age, but their willingness to give back really shows how generous and kind the Severna Park Middle School population can be.”