Necessities Bag: Ridgefield woman helps breast cancer survivors
“Thanks for making it just a little bit easier, knowing I’m not the only one,” read Maureen Hogan Lutz.
She was sitting at her dining room table, in her home — a cottage from the 1900s. Neatly assembled piles of pillows and medical supplies surrounded her. Pictures of her family occupy almost every other surface of the room, except the fireplace, which is lined with candles and wine glasses.
“I’m sorry, I always get a little emotional when I read these,” she said.
She was reading a letter from one of the women who has received a Necessities Bag, a complete kit with goods designed to help women cope during their time at the hospital and going home after undergoing a mastectomy.
Hogan Lutz has been delivering these bags to local hospitals since her own surgery in 2005.
She decided what to put in the bags from her own experience.
“I wanted to reach out to women ahead of time, before surgery, just to give them some insights before coming home,” she said. “And also packing for the hospital. In my case it was a silly thing, but it bothered me not knowing what to pack.”
She said finding ways to help other women was her personal road to recovery.
“It helped with coming to terms with all that had happened,” she said.
“Necessities kept me detached from my own feelings while transitioning from patient to survivor.”
Breast cancer support
There are a significant amount of resources available for cancer patients, but not many specific to breast cancer survivors.
“There was a lot of support for cancer and people undergoing chemo,” she said.
“But nobody was talking about how you felt when you woke up after surgery or when you got home and what you needed to do.”
Seeing the overwhelming response from women and their family members was proof that Necessities Bag was making a positive impact.
“I realized I had stumbled upon something that was unique in the ‘cancer drama,’ as I like to call it,” she said.
“Mastectomy patients are underserved, there’s nothing that’s just for them.”
Because of its personal nature, she decided to keep her organization small, although other states have started to independently run Necessities Bag, thanks to Hogan Lutz.
She says the organization stays away from “pink” and pink-related branding.
Although it is a popular awareness brand in breast cancer, she doesn’t think it necessarily fits into her mission.
The bags all have four components.
- Information: A woman-to-woman guide written by Hogan Lutz on what to expect, how to use the rest of the products, and how to manage the woman’s care and comfort.
- Hospital kit: Hogan Lutz found that after her surgery she couldn’t reach for a glass of water and that her lips were dry from anesthesia. So she included lip balm, Life Savers, emery boards, tissue, and a sports water bottle.
- Wound care supplies: These are designed to help women if they have to change their bandages the first few days while they figure out how much they will need going forward.
- Personal care and comfort: “This is so important when you come home,” Hogan Lutz said. The bag includes flushable wipes and a tank-style men’s cotton undershirt. “Men’s undershirts stretch, even if you have trouble lifting your arms,” she said. “You can get this over you and then it hugs you and keeps bandages in place.”
The bag also comes with one comfort pillow.
Women from West Hartford and Ridgefield have been sewing pillows to include in the bags.
The objective is for women to be comfortable while sleeping, or even driving a car. The pillows can be put under the seat belt or under their arms to help ease pain.
Each pillow is a special gift.
“They are all lovingly made,” said Hogan Lutz. “None of them are the same.”
One woman named Rosemary kisses each pillow she makes before putting it in the bag.
“Those little gestures carry a message that I believe the women who receive the bags know is there,” she said.
“The touch of one woman reaching out to another woman is very powerful.”
Hogan Lutz doesn’t always know the women she’s helping.
The organization delivers the bags to local hospital nurses and surgeons so they can give them to those who need them.
She always receives thank-you letters and contributions, but not all of them come with a return address.
This can be hard when it comes to funding. “A lot of times grants require you to identify who you’re helping,” she said.
But in the end someone willing to contribute always shows up.
“Funding goes through ups and downs,” she said. “And then inevitably the mail comes and somebody sends me a check, and I think to myself, this is too important to fail.”
The Nutmeg National Charity League chapter helps Hogan Lutz assemble and deliver the bags.
The Ridgefield High School and Scotts Ridge soccer and field hockey teams raise funds every year, and the Ridgefield Thrift Shop provides fabric for Saint Mary’s sewing to make the pillows. Necessities Bag also receives individual donations from people all over the state.
For more information, visit necessitiesbag.org