By Sandra Dempsey Post
When Bloomington resident Shirley Folz was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, she received both chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The latter caused what she calls a “sunburn” type reaction to her skin, causing discomfort. She also had creams and gels to apply to the affected area to keep the skin supple. Those were messy and often rubbed off on clothing. While likely not focused at the time on the proverb, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention,” she applied the wisdom contained in those words to her situation and invented Cancer Comfort Pads which created a barrier to provide comfort and reduce messiness.
“I’ve had my sewing machine open since I was 19 years old,” says Shirley. While she doesn’t consider herself a seamstress, she’s handy with a needle and thread and has done many alterations through the years on clothing for her daughter, Tracy. Shirley explains the Comfort Pads came into being through her shopping for material, purchasing 100 percent white flannel, taking it home, and with pride says, “I invented them.” Her invention took her some six months of effort designing them. While pleased about her accomplishment, she also is grateful that she is able to help other women alleviate some of their discomfort during such a difficult time. “I know what I went through when I was having radiation, and the Comfort Pad made it so much better. If you need something and I have it, I’ll give it to you,” and that’s exactly what she did with her new invention.
She had some help along the way with the Comfort Pads which she gratefully acknowledges. While shopping at Target, she had a conversation with Samantha, a Target employee and at the time, a student at Illinois State University. Shirley explained what she was looking for in material, and what she was making, and that she needed help to speed along the production. Samantha recommended calling ISU and asking if students could help do this for a project. Students in one of the design courses at ISU generously gave their time to the project, making 45 of the Comfort Pads. This past January, Shirley again asked students for their help. Jennifer Banning, Ph.D., Associate Professor-Fashion Design & Merchandising explains: “One of our Family and Consumer Sciences teacher education majors, Amber Camp, cut out the pads. Members of our Fashion Design and Merchandising Association (FDMA) student organization were responsible for most of the sewing (FDMA president Meara Walsh coordinated everything.
She had been in the course two years ago when students worked on them the first time so she had previous knowledge that helped a lot ). They had a meeting specifically set aside for it in late February (what turned out to be their last meeting before the pandemic closed the university for the rest of the semester). They had planned to finish up what was left after spring break, but with the university closed, I finished up the rest at home and mailed them to Shirley. Shirley’s ideas for these pads is really unique, and we enjoyed being able to contribute towards it.”
This year 22 pads were made and Shirley, like before, gives them to people she knows going through radiation treatment and also gives them to the Community Cancer Center at 407 E. Vernon Avenue in Normal.
Shirley, 77, worked for 40 years as a hairdresser and 25 years as a cashier at Walgreens. When asked what she especially wanted to let people know through this article, she said emphatically, “I want people to know there are Comfort Pads out there to help those going through radiation.” Because she has had that treatment for breast cancer, Shirley knows the challenges, discomfort, and concerns, and she wants to help alleviate that for others. “It couldn’t have been achieved without the work of the sewing class, and I am so delighted my project has helped so many patients,” she says gratefully.