Christmas came a little early to Tucson Medical Center Hospice, all in the name of a teenager who is no longer with us, but continues to serve as a source of inspiration. Janie Fahrendorff was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, at age 14. She lost her battle with it shortly after her 18th birthday this past summer. Janie spent time in numerous foster homes, and endured many tough times, but emerged a remarkable young lady who had a desire to help others. The community at Saguaro Canyon Church fell in love with her.
“Janie was a remarkable young lady. I’ve never met anyone like her in my life. I couldn’t believe that as ill as Janie was, she never complained. All she wanted to do was help other people,” says church member Nancy Martindale. “She was a very intelligent girl. She just lit up the whole church,” says Sheena Fontaine, another church member.
Janie was in and out of TMC’s Peppi’s House during the last few months of her life, until she passed away there. “In the final days of her life, she made it known that she did not want any flowers at her funeral. Instead, she wanted to bring joy and comfort to other children fighting cancer,” explains Martindale. It wasn’t long before Martindale had an experience that even she says is hard to describe. “I was looking through a quilting book, and I saw these little pillows. I felt like Janie was telling me, ‘do these for the kids.’ I felt like she was urging me. My husband was sitting next to me, and he got goose bumps.”
That experience, combined with Janie’s wishes, led to the creation of Janie’s Pillow Pals. It was founded by Martindale and Fontaine, but quickly grew to more than a dozen dedicated women make up the group now. They meet twice a month to sew pillows that will be distributed to those who are hurting. And they do it all in Janie’s honor.
The pillows are just a child’s size, and have a loop on one corner to make it easy for little hands to hold onto. Fontaine says, “It’s something they can cuddle with and take to their medical treatments. They’ll know that someone is thinking of them.” Before each pillow is sealed up, a card is attached to it. It talks about Janie’s life, and explains how Janie’s Pillow Pals was started. TMC Pediatric Hospice nurse Amy Olson says that card serves as a way to start a difficult conversation with other families about death and dying. “When these families read the story about Janie, and learn about her life, it helps them express their feelings about their child dying. It helps them feel like they are not so alone, and allows them to see how another child’s legacy is living on,” says Olson.
The volunteers recently delivered more than 350 Christmas pillows to five different organizations that care for sick children, including TMC’s Peppi’s House. Since the group’s inception, about one-thousand pillows have been sewn and distributed with love. The pillows are designated for children and anyone with cancer, but the outpouring of pillows from the group has allowed hospital workers to distribute them to patients with different diagnoses as well.
“It’s been extremely well received,” says Martindale. “When we deliver the pillows, the reaction we get – we just can’t describe it. It’s just brings such a joy to our hearts,” says Fontaine. “It feels so good to know that these are being appreciated and are truly lighting up children’s lives.”
Currently, the materials are either donated, or provided by the women themselves. They are always looking for people who want to support Janie’s Pillow Pals by volunteering their time. They also have a great need for donations like fabric and polyfill, or gift cards to Joann’s or Hancock Fabrics so that their good work can continue. “We are dedicated to this. It’s our passion, and we’re trying to get more people involved with it,” says Fontaine.
The group meets on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of each month at 10 am in the Fellowship Hall at Saguaro Canyon Church. The church is located at 10111 East Old Spanish Trail. For more information on how you can get involved, or donate items, call Nancy Martin Dale at (520) 777-8485, or Saguaro Canyon Church at (520) 885-7088.