October 18, 2002 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Some eastern Kentucky Extension homemakers have found a way to offer warmth and friendship to cancer patients in Pike County and beyond. They donate time and resources to make decorative turbans and sleep caps for cancer patients at the Pikeville Methodist Hospital.

Many cancer patients need chemotherapy treatment. While chemo can offer hope and add years of life, it often causes hair loss. Without hair, patients can become cold since there is nothing to keep heat from escaping the body through the scalp.

Pike county Extension Homemakers President Brenda Kilgore has been involved with the project since it's inception more than a year ago. She said turbans are sometimes hard to come by for cancer patients, whether due to financial reasons or availability in the area, so the homemakers wanted to provide the service. Every couple of months, homemakers have a turban-making workshop and take more than 100 turbans and sleep caps to take to the hospital, as they are always in demand.

"I remember a lady coming up to me and talking about what a hardship it was for her to pay for a turban," Kilgore said. "A pattern was given to me shortly after that and we went from there."

Turbans are what patients wear during the day and the sleep caps are made of a softer material that extends over the back of the neck for night time sleeping and relaxing.

"If anyone calls we'll send them three items," said Leslie Workman, Pike county Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. "And if you know anything about the expense of this, turbans are about $10 to $15 each when you can find them. So this is a great savings to the patients who are affected by cancer.

Workman said the homemakers have made nearly 1,000 caps and turbans in the last year-and-a-half. They've had requests from all over. Even family members from other states have called and asked for the items and Workman said they are always happy to send them to anyone in need.

The success of any project depends on donations and volunteers, and this project is no different. Turban and sleep cap-making requires a lot of material, thread, sewing machines and intricately detailed labor from skilled seamstresses.

"All of the fabric for this project was donated," Workman said. "Our county homemaker president wrote a letter to the editor of the paper about the project. When I came back from vacation, there were about five boxes of donated fabric, all that we could use, sitting in my office and it's been pouring in ever since."

Phyllis Coe retired after working for 30 years and has become very active in her homemaker's club. She said this project is very personal to her and she's glad to be able to donate her time after so many years of not being able to do so.

"There's a lot of cancer in my family and all around," she said. "I think losing your hair is hard, especially for women and I really think this project is helping people."

Coe also had a vital part in bringing in much of the material. She also volunteers at the local firehouse and they received a call from some people in Baltimore, Maryland with surplus fabric. The firehouse couldn't use it, but it was perfect for the turban and sleep cap project.

It's hard to put a value on a project of this nature but the rewards the volunteers reap are measured in the satisfaction of helping someone in need.

"We have had some beautiful cards and letters from people who have received the turbans," Kilgore said.

Shirley Coleman, oncology program coordinator at Pikeville Methodist Hospital said the project is worthwhile for the patients, the homemakers and the hospital.

"Most of the time, the patient who receive these are so elated and appreciative," she said. "Sometimes the only way they are able to obtain them is through this program."

Community service is nothing new to the Pike County homemakers clubs. Before the turban project, the ladies were making care bears for children in the hospital ER. Workman said the project will continue as long as they have fabric and people to work. She also said she'd be glad to send patterns to any county wanting to start a similar project.



Leslie Workman  606-432-2534