Comforting cancer patients one blanket at a time.
That's been the mission of one Palmerton woman who started a campaign known as "Layers of Love" on behalf of her father, who last year was diagnosed with cancer.
Patty Beidleman of Palmerton said her father, Wendell Jennings, underwent chemotherapy at the Cooper Cancer Institute in New Jersey shortly after he was diagnosed.
From that point on, Beidleman has made it her intention to have blankets donated for cancer patients who also receive chemotherapy at Cooper.
Jennings, 75, of New Jersey, was diagnosed last year with stage 3 colorectal cancer. He had surgery and extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which he completed in July.
Since then, Jennings has had a scan done after all his treatments, and as of mid-August, he is cancer free, said Beidleman, who added the idea for Layers of Love started with a simple need.
"Chemotherapy patients suffer a terrible side effect of treatment, [such as] being susceptible to cold," Beidleman said. "The first time I sat with my parents in the waiting room of the Cooper Cancer Institute, I was struck by not just the number of patients who walked through the door, but by how many of them carried a tote bag with a fleece blanket tucked inside."
As she and her mother walked her dad in for his appointment, Beidleman said the reason became apparent; the temperature in the treatment room dropped considerably.
"The first thing my dad said as he settled into his chair was, "'I sure wish I brought my blanket with me; it's cold in here'".
Not only is the room kept cooler, but being cold is a side effect of chemotherapy, Beidleman noted.
"While hospital blankets are of course provided, they are the standard, thin sort; hardly the type I'd imagine would provide any real warmth and comfort," she said. "Judging by the blankets other patients chose to bring, fleece is the fabric of choice."
That, Beidleman said, is when the idea for Layers of Love was conceptualized.
"As I drove home that day, my thoughts never left those patients who - like my dad - could use all the comfort they could get at this point in their lives," she said. "That's when the light in my head went off and Layers of Love: Comforting Cancer Patients One Blanket at a Time, was born."
Beidleman said the blankets may be purchased in kit form from craft stores such as JoAnn's Fabrics & Craft stores, and put together rather quickly easily within less than an hour of time. Or, she said they may be made from two pieces of fleece fabric without a kit, which takes about the same amount of time.
She said hand sewn blankets have been donated toward the cause as well.
"If someone would like to donate a blanket and doesn't know how or doesn't have the time to put one together, we do that for them," she said. "We have step-by-step information with links of the type of blankets, where to buy online, and how to put a blanket together on our blog, http://layersoflove.wordpress.com."
Beidleman said the project continues to exceed expectations.
"We are continually growing, and we are seeing that the chemotherapy patients who we can donate blankets to is growing as well," she said. "We originally started out in March with a goal of 74 blankets for Cooper Cancer Institute by September; we exceeded that goal, so now we have brought the donation drive here locally."
Beidleman said she has just started a new blanket donation drive for the Lehigh Valley Health Network, which includes the cancer centers at Lehigh Valley Hospital- Cedar Crest and Muhlenberg locations.
"We are now working toward donating 25 [blankets] for LVHN; however, our goal is to be able to donate blankets to other cancer centers in the area and eventually nationally," she said. "As long as there is a chemotherapy patient who needs a blanket, Layers of Love will be working hard to provide one for them."
On a personal level, Beidleman said the project is very near and dear to her heart.
"When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I felt so helpless, and this project was a way to help, but now it means so much more to me," she said. "When I deliver the blankets to the chemotherapy patients and get to meet them, those are the days I will never forget."
After the patients receive their blankets, Beidleman said the looks on their faces are priceless.
"They are battling this horrible disease, and when I tell them that someone they've never met has donated a homemade fleece blanket to provide them with comfort and warmth, while they go through their treatment, they are amazed," she said. "When I tell them where the blankets have come from - some from Florida, some from overseas, some from the west coast - they are blown away by the generosity."
That, Beidleman said, is why it's important to her to not only continue with Layers of Love, but to expand it to help as many patients as possible.
Beidleman said the group has used word of mouth and social media to spread the word. It has a twitter account, http://twitter.com/Layers_of_Love;  a Facebook page, http://www.Facebook.com/LayersofLoveComforting  ChemotheraphyPatients; a blog, http://layersoflove.wordpress.com ., and a website, www.layersoflove.net .
"We have received emails from all over the world from people who have donated blankets to us," she said. "I have received blankets as far away as from Ireland."
In addition, Beidleman said the group has had a blanket tying night at the Palmerton Library where both students and adults came, purchased a blanket, and all worked together to cut, tie, and put them together.
Also, Beidleman said she had a pizza party blanket tying night at her house for her daughter and her friends, who ate pizza and put together blankets. Beidleman said she also had a Life Scout who did his Eagle Scout project to benefit the cause, and donated over 50 blankets for Layers of Love, while a girl scout troop in Florida made blankets as a project to help benefit the cause.
Beidleman said she currently has a charter school who's student group works once a week after school making blankets. Just this week, she said she was contacted by a Residence Hall Social Events Coordinator at Purdue University, and they are making several blankets for the group to coincide with October, which is breast cancer awareness month.
"I will make sure that their blankets go specifically to those chemotherapy patients who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer," she said. "In November, Layers of Love will be collaborating with a children's charity in Ohio who makes chemo bears for children who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment."
Beidleman said Friends Like Us has designed a special bear just for the group, and a portion of what they raise in November will be donated to the group so that it can purchase blankets to donate to chemotherapy patients.
She said Friends Like Us is a great organization that does so much for children in their fight against cancer.
"We are thrilled to be working with them," she said. "I hope it is the first of many projects with them."
Beidleman said Layers of Love will work with every organization in any way it can, from providing directions of how to put the blankets together to helping find volunteers to make the blankets with them.
"This is a great opportunity for organizations such as those listed above, along with youth groups, church groups and any other group who wants to do an activity for community service," she said. "It is also a great family project to work on together, and with the holidays quickly approaching, working on and donating blankets is a great way to give a gift of comfort and warmth to chemotherapy patients and to let them know the community is thinking of them."
She said donated blankets can be mailed to: Layers of Love, 665 Pine St., Palmerton, Pa 18071.
Layers of Love can be contacted through email at email@example.com .