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Making the Burden More Bearable

The light and medium brown bears sit grouped together. Designed with ribbons and bows, the bears, no one like the next, take on a life of their own. It’s hard not to have a favorite.

These are no ordinary teddy bears. They are comfort bears that 60 breast cancer patients each month at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute will receive beginning this month.

“The inspiration for starting this project was to provide physical comfort for breast cancer patients,” said Nancy Drourr, outreach coordinator for Moffitt’s Comprehensive Breast Cancer Program. “The bear is therapeutic for the patients.”

These bears are the only ones specially designed to provide physical comfort. The legs and arms fall away from the body, and the body is like an elongated pillow.

The bears also provide emotional comfort to the women. During surgery, the bear takes pressure off the surgical site when the patients hold the bear under their arm. Afterward, the bears hold sentimental value as well as helpful information.

The bears will have a tag carrying general information and a number to call for psychosocial support.

The “We Care” patient bear project was brought to light with the help of FACTors (Fighting Against Cancer Together), a breast cancer support group of the Comprehensive Breast Cancer Program. A year ago, a surgeon at Moffitt brought back the idea from a conference that discussed a similar bear project. The “We Care” project was then created and will be the first bear project specially designed for physical comfort.

The bear project has volunteers who design the bears. Sometimes, previous cancer patients, such as Dawn Ringwood, participate to give something back to future patients.

“After my surgery, I wanted to do something for other breast cancer patients who will have to go through the surgery,” Ringwood said. “I started designing greeting cards and brought them to the Moffitt Center to sale. The proceeds went to the bear project. I was then asked if I would like to volunteer to decorate the bears. I started last month, and so far, have designed over 40 bears.”

“This is about patients who want to give back to new patients,” said Drourr. “This is a way of giving back.”

Jean Hughes, another volunteer, is a retired nurse and representative for the Circle of Bears, a nonprofit organization involved in community service activities.

“Our organization is able to do things for other people, and this project was a great opportunity to do so,” Hughes said. “We have designed more than 30 bears, and we plan to do 60 for the month.”

Ringwood, who also plans to do 60 bears for the month, didn’t receive a bear but found physical comfort elsewhere.

“I had a body pillow, lots of mom’s quilts and a huge pillow that my kids gave me to sit on,” Ringwood said. “I spent lots of time in bed from the chemotherapy treatments that I was receiving.”

“They are the softest little things in the world,” Ringwood said. “I would love to have woke up after surgery to one of these bears.” Drourr said that older patients would not receive a bear when the project starts. There are not enough bears to give to people who had the surgeries as well as incoming patients.

The support group offers patients group support as well as a one-on-one peer support program, which matches a post treatment patient and a present treatment with similar backgrounds together.

Every bear has ribbons and bows, but all are special, considering the hard work put into decorating. Some have butterflies, the symbol for FACTors, on them.

Drourr said the butterflies symbolize “the transformation of a woman going through breast cancer surgery.”

Ringwood will begin to make small uniforms and headbands because it is becoming more difficult to make a new design for each bear.

Now decorating bears during her downtime, she plans to have bear parties, where a group of friends will design bears at her house. Hughes will also have similar parties.

Once the bears are done, even the volunteers can’t help but become attached.

“They literally take on personalities of their own,” Ringwood said. “You are astonished when you see them. They all have attitudes. The bear that is wrapped in face cloth and has a yellow bow on its head and a rubber ducky in his hand is my favorite.”

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