Colorful heart pillows filled the main lobby of Platte Valley Medical Center on August 3. Jennifer Willard and her volunteers with JWILL Pink Village bring 65 handmade heart pillows of all colors and patterns to donate to Platte Valley breast cancer patients recovering from mastectomies. It is exactly one year since she began the organization and she wants to give back to other women going through what she did.
On Christmas Eve, 2015, Jennifer Willard received the call from her doctor that she had breast cancer. After a long journey of struggle and recovery, she choose to have a double mastectomy and remove both breasts. On her way out of the operating room, her oncologist gave her a heart shaped pillow someone had handmade for local cancer survivors. This pillow was designed to help her be able to sit in the car with her seatbelt on and protect her exposed chest.
“It left such an impression on my heart that someone I didn’t know had taken the time to make this for me,” Willard said. “I wanted to pay it forward.” Willard has since given out over 800 heart pillows in the last year through her non-profit, JWILL Pink Village.
“I never imagined it would get this big. My heart explodes to see something positive come out of something so sad.”
Many individuals reach out to JWILL Pink Village and receive a pillow, but Jennifer’s and the organization’s real desire is to work with those directly involved in the mastectomies, doctors and hospitals. “I want to work with more hospitals because they can explain how to use them, it gives survivors that extra step of love and caring.”
Willard visited Platte Valley Medical Center on August 3 because her heart was set on delivering to hospitals on the organization’s anniversary. Her ultimate goal is to work with every hospital in Colorado that does mastectomies.
Platte Valley’s Oncology Department performs approximately 30 mastectomies each year. With the donation of 65 hearts brought in today by JWILL Pink Village, over two years’ worth of patients can leave with their own pillow.
Each pillow is made with “love and hope” according to Jennifer, and not at a factory. Volunteers cut, sew, and stuff donated fabric to make the hearts by hand. JWILL Pink Village has people from five states making hearts. Jennifer jokes that her house usually looks like a pillow factory.
Once they hear about the work that JWILL Pink Village does, people want to get involved. Many communities have held “pillow parties” creating hearts to be distributed. All ages have helped the hearts take form. A young boy only four years old helped stuff hearts while a 92 year old woman helped sew them.
Each heart is special and made unique for its new owner. Varieties of fabrics are donated and mixed for all types of women (and men) with breast cancer. “Not everyone likes pink or want ribbons, we make hearts for all kinds of people.” Recently, JWILL Pink Village made a bunch of Colorado sport team themed hearts for the Rockies and Broncos.
Jennifer takes the time personally write a note for each by hand. She says that she wants it to be from one survivor to another.
One of her volunteers teaches a class for young girls called Women Who Changed History. For their project, the girls chose to hold a “pillow party” and make pillows for the hospital. “I want the girls to know you don’t have to really go out there to do something. This is changing history,” said JWILL Volunteer Toni Allison.
Jennifer said that one of her favorite moments donating to hospitals was when a young 8th grader came with her to drop off the pillows. A cancer patient was on site receiving treatment and he was able to help her pick out a heart to take home. She said it was a moving moment to see between a survivor and a supporter. “This is what gets me out of bed in the morning,” she said. “I have another job that makes money, but this is what fills my heart.”
Jennifer Willard and JWILL Pink Village will be back at Platte Valley Medical Center in September for our Girls’ Night Out event if you would like to meet her or donate supplies for her cause.