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Sycamore Resident Starting Nonprofit to Help Woman Recovering from Breast Cancer

April 28, 2010 - By Caitlin Mullen, Daily Chronicle

Sycamore Resident Starting Nonprofit to Help Woman Recovering from Breast Cancer

"He is my rock," said Cheryl Chilson of her husband Jess on Tuesday,
April 27, 2010 at their home in Sycamore, Ill. Cheryl Chilson, who is a
breast cancer survivor, wants to start a nonprofit organization to help
other breast cancer survivors leaving Kishwaukee Community Hospital.
(Rob Winner –

SYCAMORE – Cheryl Chilson is on a mission to make sure local breast cancer patients know someone is thinking of them.

In February, the Sycamore resident was shocked to learn she had breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy March 12 at Kishwaukee Community Hospital in DeKalb. Now, six weeks after her surgery, she said she’s in “survivorship” mode.

“After two or three months now, it’s been a good roller coaster. And I say good because you have to make something good come of it,” she said.

Chilson, who sees her situation as an opportunity to help others, is ready to support local women with breast cancer. She’s trying to organize a nonprofit called The Gift of Pink, which will supply breast cancer patients who’ve undergone a mastectomy or lumpectomy at KCH with a gift bag full of items needed after surgery.

“We need to help these women with the aftercare,” she said. “Maybe one or two things have been taken away from them. I just want them to know not everything is taken away from them.”

Though medical staffs offer support to women being treated for breast cancer, it can mean a lot to receive help from other women who have gone through the same thing, said Chilson’s surgeon, Dr. Nitzet Velez-Mroz.

“It’s so nice for them, the idea that there’s a human touch on the other end. There’s a benefit for everybody. There’s benefit for those that will be recovering and there’s great benefit in giving,” Velez-Mroz said. “This particular project is going to be overall a wonderful addition to our cancer care.”

Most people don’t realize that women who have the surgery cannot shower or bathe for a week to two weeks; that direction can vary among doctors, said Jodi Diehl, nurse patient navigator at KCH.

Chilson thought of dry shampoo, which can be used to take grease from hair without rinsing with water, and contacted several large companies. Alberto Culver, maker of TRESemme hair products, agreed to donate dry shampoo for the gift bags.

“They said whatever you want, we’ll do it,” she said.
A headband is another essential item, she said. Women can't lift their arm to put hair in ponytail, and "men can't really do a ponytail," so the ease of sliding in a headband to pull hair back is important. A pillow will be included for women to rest their arm after surgery.

Chilson and her husband, Jess, found that feminine pads — cheaper and thicker than gauze — were the best product to use when dressing the wound, and would like to include those in the gift bag, too.

"Something like that, you don't think of," she said. "There's so many things you don't think of that a woman really needs. ...You have to get so creative."

Summer's Eve, which makes feminine wipes, also is willing to donate, she said.

Though modesty and vanity have been "thrown out the window" while undergoing cancer treatment, Chilson understands it's important to many women to maintain the feeling of beauty. It can do a lot for a woman's spirit, she said.

The simple pleasure of having her hair washed and styled at a salon post-surgery invigorated Chilson, and she's hoping a local salon will donate gift certificates for the gift bags.

"I felt so pretty, for that short hour of primping and pampering," she said. "To wash and dry your hair and make you feel whole again when you're really not feeling that way" works wonders.

And to help the entire family, ZaZa's Italian Steakhouse will donate a gift certificate for one family meal, owner Dino Sisto said.

Chilson said her husband – they've been together for 30 years – has told her he is proud of what she's accomplished with the project.

"He said, 'I've never seen you so passionate about something in my life,'" Chilson said. "I've been given an opportunity to do something and making something of this. It's a strange, bonding sisterhood, but now that I'm part of it, I want to help the ones that come after me."

Once cancer patients become survivors, their lives are forever changed, Diehl said, and it's common for them to want to help others who are fighting the disease.

"There's a lot of thoughtful people out there," she said. "(Chilson) felt that calling quickly. ... I think a lot of them feel better that they've helped others."

Diehl said the project is sure to help Chilson's healing process, too, as she'll make connections with women in similar situations.

"They kind of do look for that, like she said, a sisterhood — somebody else that's been through it and doing well," Diehl said.

Lend a Hand

If you would like to get involved with The Gift of Pink, please contact Cheryl Chilson at


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