Sewing Pillows for a Purpose

Joan Lennie pays it forward to RUSH breast cancer surgery patients
Joan Lennie

Joan Lennie was diagnosed with breast cancer on Feb. 2 —  a day she’ll never forget. A few weeks later, she found herself preparing for a double mastectomy. 

Before surgery, the retired teacher from Oak Park reconnected with two friends, who gave her special homemade pillows that would aid in her recovery. “I was really touched,” she says. “The pillows were very useful to me as I was recovering from surgery.” Now, Lennie is using her sewing skills to help other breast cancer surgery patients at RUSH. 

Designed for comfort

The pillows, for both the neck and underarms, are designed to help protect the surgical incisions and provide comfort for people recovering from mastectomies. 

“I love to sew and I feel that you are called to use your gifts,” she says. “I've always believed in paying it forward. So, I said to a few friends, ‘Would you be interested in helping me make more pillows?’”

Lennie was overjoyed at the response she received and quickly assembled a group to help her sew and stuff the pillows. “It gave me great joy to see everybody so enthusiastic about helping,” she says. “And it was really fun making the pillows.” Together, the group made 30 pillows — 15 pairs of both neck and underarm pillows. 

Paying it forward

In August, Lennie delivered the pillows to her surgical oncologist, Rosalinda Alvarado, MD, and oncologist Ruta Rao, MD, so that future RUSH patients will be able to use them while recovering from breast cancer surgery. 

Today, Lennie is cancer-free and hopes to continue making the pillows for others who have to undergo mastectomies and lumpectomies. “I would love to be able to teach more people how to make the pillows and pass the gift along to others,” she says. 

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