KATY MAGAZINE l OCTOBER 2019
By Natalie Cook Clark
In August of 2007, Katy's Jan Sidle became a statistic - the 1 in 8 woman who develops breast cancer in her lifetime. Months after her diagnosis, Jan felt compelled to help other women in her situation. She founded Smocks for Life to bring a smile to women experiencing breast cancer.
Diagnosed from a Routine Mammogram
Jan Sidle was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, a form of breast cancer, in the spring of 2007. Luckily, doctors caught the cancer in its early stages, due to a routine mammogram. Sidle did not need chemotherapy, but began radiation treatments that fall.
“I had wonderful support from my children and close friends,” she says. “They were great at keeping me doing other things, so I would keep my mind off of the cancer."
Sister Sent her a Smock
Before her treatments began, Jan received a special a package. Inside was a smock from Dignity Robes in Pennsylvania where her sister volunteered.
The smock had Velcro on the sides allowing Jan to reveal only what she needed to for the radiation, and stay comfortable and covered elsewhere during the procedures.
"People just don't realize what all is involved until they go through it," explains Jan. "When you go for chemo or radiation you have to change clothes multiple times, which can get tiring. But more importantly there are a lot of people in the rooms and many are men so it's easy to feel very exposed and on display. It was so nice to just be able to get out of my car and walk in already in my smock."
An Idea to Serve Katy
“It was wonderful to keep some dignity, and soon, women began asking me where I got my smock,” she says. “That was when I knew that I had to do something for the Katy area and I created Smocks for Life."
First She Benefited, Now She Serves
Joan McMilkin was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007.
"Once I completed my chemo I started radiation. I went to 3-4 sessions before I read in a church bulletin about Smocks for Life," explains McMilkin. "I loved my smock! They are all so cheerful. I could just go in my smock and then when I was done I could leave. It really made everything easier and I no longer felt exposed."
McMilkin started volunteering for Smocks for Life in 2007 while she was still undergoing treatment and still is one of the organization's regular volunteers. She also runs workshops and speaks at women's groups to motivate them and share shat Smocks for Life is doing.
"When you're going through treatment it's nice knowing that someone cared enough to put their time into this," says McMilkin.
All Donations are Used
Smocks for Life is a nonprofit organization that operates out of St. Peter’s United Methodist Church on Kingsland Boulevard and relies on donations.
"100 percent of donations are used or repurposed," explains Jan. "We only use 100 percent cotton fabric for the smocks but whenever we have something that can't be used we turn it over to other groups such as the Care Ministry, who makes quilts for those who are sick or in the hospital. We send our scraps to other groups and they have even been used to stuff charity dog beds. Everything gets used."
Meeting to Make Magic
A group of women meets on the first Tuesday of each month from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm (breaking for summer in June, July, and August) at St. Peter’s. The smock-making magic begins with a cutting party, and from there, the materials are bundled into kits with sewing instructions and given to sewing volunteers. Jan and her daughter Amy inspect each smock that is sent out, checking it for quality and include a note of encouragement.
To date, Smocks for Life has given out over 5,000 smocks locally, nationally, and internationally to breast cancer patients.
"All smocks are absolutely free, including shipping. We've shipped to Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Amsterdam, Norway, and more international locations."
75 percent of the smocks made are donated to the West Side M.D. Anderson Center, where Jan received her treatment. The rest are saved for those who reach out thanks to word of mouth.
"I always save some so that I always can help when someone reaches out to us through our website or a friend," says Jan.
Volunteer Opportunities Even for Non-Sewers
There are volunteer opportunities for all skill levels - sewers and non-sewers.
"We have about have fifty to sixty sewers a month," says Jan. "We always need non-sewers to come to the meetings and help prep the kits. It's simply following and cutting a pattern and then assembling a kit that will be given to a sewer." All supplies needed are included in the kits except for thread. "Everyone's sewing machines use different threads so we've found this to be easier."
The City of Katy has been very supportive of Smocks for Life too.
“Whenever I say we’re running low of fabric, the next day some gets dropped of at the St. Peter’s office or my front door step," Jan shares. "Sometimes we get a note or just a bag of fabric. I call them the fabric fairies."
Helping Maintain Dignity
"I always felt very proud and dignified when I wore my smock. It was gratifying to not always be changing and to be covered as much as possible," says Jan. "I take great pleasure in knowing that I'm helping someone who is going through what I experienced."
To learn more about Smocks for Life, visit their website.