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August 11th, 2015

Nurse and Breast Cancer Survivor Creates “HopeFull Hands” to Offer Care Kits for Others

By In the Loop

Debbie Sheppard with HopeFull Hands volunteers make "Comfort Kits" for breast cancer patients. After Debbie Sheppard was diagnosed with breast cancer, a friend brought her an apron and some small pillows. The gifts weren't for cooking and sleeping, however. As Debbie would discover, they had a more important purpose. The apron would hold the drainage tubes and bags that would collect fluid after her mastectomy. The pillows would protect tender skin after surgery. "I hadn't thought of needing something like that, and I'm a nurse," Debbie, a critical care nurse on Mayo Clinic's Arizona campus, tells us. "If I hadn't had the apron, I would have been pinning drains to my clothes."

All of the items were so helpful to , her, she says, that she wanted to make sure the same tools, as well as the loving gesture behind them, were available to others. So, just six months after her own surgery, Debbie and 11 friends and colleagues at Mayo Clinic's Arizona campus began making "Comfort Kits" for breast cancer patients. The group dubbed themselves "HopeFull Hands" and created homemade kits containing an apron, two heart-shaped pillows to position under the arms, and a pillow to position between the surgery site and a seatbelt. The items are placed in matching bag (also homemade, naturally).

The HopeFull Hands crew meets once every three to four months to create a new batch of Comfort Kits. "This is not an individual project," says Debbie. "It takes a group to get this done. We have five sewing machines going, and we have jobs for non-sewers too." (Whew!) The items are all made from "soft, cozy flannel" in a variety of "happy, lively prints." While Debbie and her friends had initially funded the project themselves, the Hematology/Oncology Department recently began providing support, which Debbie says was "wonderful and completely unexpected."

To date, the group has made 220 kits for breast cancer patients. Debbie says the project "is really rewarding to all of us," and that she hopes "the women who get these know that someone has thought of them in advance."

That sort of thoughtfulness is nothing new for Debbie, according to her supervisor, Michelle Alore, who says she was "not at all surprised" when Debbie began making the Comfort Kits. "She's a good person who knows how to care for people," says Alore, who nominated Debbie for a Mae Berry Award for Service, which she received in June. The recognition, as the Rochester Post-Bulletin tells it, is given to Mayo Clinic employees who have acted "selflessly to meet the needs of patients with no thought of reward." Debbie said the recognition was "unexpected," as you might expect.

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Tags: Breast Cancer, Debbie Sheppard, Employee Stories

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