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Lavender Eye Pillows – A Gift that Gives Back

Guest post by Cowgirls vs. Cancer 2017 alumna Becky. Looking for a holiday gift that gives back? Introducing the Big Sky Yoga collection of lavender eye pillows. Every purchase will help provide free eye pillows for cancer patients! Read on to learn more. And then order up! 

It can be difficult to know what to do for someone when they are going through a difficult time, like cancer treatment. Often, there is no “right” thing to say, so we say nothing. It can feel like nothing we could do could put a dent in the magnitude of pain that comes with a cancer diagnosis, so we do nothing. Others might send cards or make a meal for the patient and their family, typically at major junctions of the patient’s course with cancer, like at diagnosis, before a big surgery, or after their last chemo. 

Still, despite the support they may receive from loved ones, many patients end up feeling isolated and lonely at some point during their illness. No matter how many people care about them, it’s hard not to feel this way when 6 months in, the mailbox and fridge are empty. It can feel like everyone else has continued on with their lives (as of course, they should), while the patient is dragging themselves to yet another chemotherapy appointment, stuck in the all-consuming cancer-world. 

One day last spring, I was at home sewing (sewing is one of the few activities I have left given my limitations with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer), and I was mulling over these issues. I thought about the people that I see every 3 weeks at my infusion center, and how many of them show up alone. I looked over at my pile of scrap fabrics and realized that it was enough to make a basket of lavender eye pillows – a project I had worked on for my family members, so I knew how to do it. Why not make a basket of eye pillows and bring it in to share at my next infusion? 

I did just that, and the eye pillows – made with a variety of my scrap fabrics and filled with lavender and rice – disappeared in an instant. I felt a flush of satisfaction and happiness as I sat in my own infusion chair, hooked up to my chemo, and looked around at my fellow patients, each reclining next to their hanging IV bag with an eye pillow draped over their eyes. The room smelled more like a spa than a clinic with all the lavender. I went home, made another basket, and brought it to my next infusion. Soon enough I was delivering baskets of lavender eye pillows to every infusion center in town. Once I announced my latest hobby on Facebook, which I called Harriet + Ginger, my husband and I began delivering boxes of eye pillows to infusion centers and oncology nonprofits nationwide. My mom helped me cut fabric. As I’m a patient myself, finances are an issue, so my husband and I began selling them as well in order to fund the free ones. Between those sales and generous donations, we have been able to donate over 1100 eye pillows in about 5 months.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about why such a simple product is so popular, and I think it has a lot to do with what the eye pillows represent. Of course, they are designed to provide some comfort and relaxation – which is much needed for anyone going through cancer or anyone who loves someone going through cancer – but they are also a reminder that someone out there cares. I care. My husband cares. My mom cares. Every person who donated fabric cares. When patients are given a free eye pillow, they are reminded that there are people out there thinking about them, who care about their pain, who want to help. Even when their mailbox is empty – they aren’t forgotten. 

Others have found them to be affordable, meaningful gifts to give to a loved one facing cancer (or any difficult time). It’s a unique, thoughtful gift that shows a level of recognition for what the patient is going through. In a simple way, it says, “I want you to be in less pain. I want you to feel less stress and have more comfort. Here is something that might help.” People have told me that the eye pillows help them sleep and reduce their anxiety – two major issues for many cancer patients. Personally, I can’t fall asleep without mine, and when I’m facing a particularly stressful day, like a scan, laying in my bed and breathing in the lavender helps me focus and calm.

Becky and Java at the 2017 Cowgirls vs. Cancer retreat.

While we do have a small Etsy shop, most of our funding is due to the generosity of Margaret Burns Vap at Big Sky Yoga Retreats in Montana. She runs a non-profit yoga/horseback riding retreat for women with breast cancer called Cowgirls vs. Cancer. I had the good fortune to attend the retreat in 2017. Margaret gives women a weekend of complete luxury, pampering, and fun. Her program makes women feel cared for. It’s a place for patients to connect with each other and break down the sense of isolation that too often develops throughout treatment. When she heard about Harriet + Ginger, she offered to stock the eye pillows in her Big Sky Yoga Retreats shop in order to help us fund the free eye pillows, and she has been an invaluable member of this project ever since. Those 1100 free eye pillows would never have happened were it not for her help and generosity.

Now, we are teaming up once more to bring you the Big Sky Yoga Collection – a special holiday offer. All profits will go back into making free eye pillows for cancer patients, loved ones, and providers. The collection includes one eye pillow, plus two removable, machine-washable (essential for any chemotherapy patient) eye pillow cases – each with a different design: elk, unicorns, and namaste/om. Each design represents the different types of trips that Big Sky Yoga Retreats offers. [Editor’s note: WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD NOT WANT A UNICORN EYE PILLOW?]

These make the perfect holiday gift, and your purchase will go towards helping those in need feel loved, remembered, and cared for. To place your holiday order – remember, it’s only $15 + $7 shipping! – email info@bigskyyogaretreats.com.
Donation upgrade: $15 sponsors 5 donation eye pillows. Add $10 to your order, and Harriet + Ginger will donate 3 more eye pillows! #winwin

Yeehaw, Namaste, and best wishes for healthy holidays ahead.