Alene Tchekmedyian

Comfort bags for women in chemo

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Michelle Memmott, who oversees 27 Soroptomist clubs in the greater Los Angeles area, fills breast cancer comfort bags with pink pillows and water bottles. Memmott started the comfort bags in Manhattan Beach after seeing Santa Barbara’s chapter create bags for women who had undergone surgery for breast cancer.

Michelle Memmott, who oversees 27 Soroptomist clubs in the greater Los Angeles area, fills breast cancer comfort bags with pink pillows and water bottles. Memmott started the comfort bags in Manhattan Beach after seeing Santa Barbara’s chapter create bags for women who had undergone surgery for breast cancer. Photo by Alene Tchekmedyian

Nearly a dozen women formed an assembly line at the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce last week, filling and quickly passing bags of bright pink pillows, pink water bottles and pink toothbrushes.

On behalf of Soroptomist International Manhattan Beach, a local chapter of an international non-profit for businesswomen who provide service projects to women in their communities, the group was packing breast cancer comfort bags for local women undergoing breast cancer chemotherapy for the first time.

The products inside the bags are geared toward comforting these women, said Karen Block, president of the organization. This includes lotion and Chapstick for dry hands and lips, a common side effect of chemotherapy. The lotion is unscented, catering to the heightened sense of smell that the treatment causes, and the toothbrushes are soft for sensitive gums. The contents of the bags were derived from physician and breast cancer patient recommendations.

“We had seen that there are a lot of different hospitals and centers in the Los Angeles area that serve a lot of underprivileged women going through chemo,” Block said. “We thought it would be a nice thing to send our thoughts to these women.”

About 25 bags are distributed to each of four clinics, including those of Kaiser Permanente, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Breastlink Manhattan Beach and Martin Luther King, Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center.

The bags also include a pen and journal for recording thoughts during the treatment.

The two-year-old service project is grant funded – each bag costs the organization $43.

While the bag-stuffers might not meet the women undergoing the treatment, they do pen handwritten letters of encouragement which are also planted inside the bags. The group often receives thank you letters after the bags are delivered.

One survivor wrote how handy the products came while she was undergoing chemo. “Stool softeners, gum – for those days when nothing tastes o.k. and you can’t brush your teeth enough to get a yucky taste out – to the journal, the pillow and shampoo, it all came in just at the right time!” she wrote.

After receiving a bag, another woman asked where the volunteers purchased the products because she wanted to buy more, Block said.

Maria Capaldo, chair of the committee, said she often gets heartfelt phone calls from women who’ve received the bags. “I cry every time I get off the phone,” she said. “It feels so fantastic that we’ve made a contribution to someone who’s going through a horrific thing.”

Soroptomist is hosting a beer and tequila tasting on Saturday, Nov. 5 to benefit the Turkish Women’s Initiative and a rainwater collecting project in Rwanda. The event will take place at 5:30 p.m. at the Hermosa Beach Kiwanis Club, 2515 Valley Dr. $30 for beer tasting, $40 for beer and tequila tasting. Prices will go up $5 at the door.