“It’s just a quilt,” Cindy Champagne kept saying, seemingly still in disbelief at what some cloth and thread can nurture.
But in the year that Champagne and Charlene Berry have been sewing their close-to 200 creations for cancer patients, they’ve learned these simple gifts mean so much more.
The pair used to meet up once a year at a quilting retreat at Judson Baptist Retreat Center in St. Francisville. Now, “Charlene’s Chemo Quilts” brings the longtime quilting hobbyists together more often.
After going through breast cancer herself in 2013, survivor Berry, who lives in Pine Grove, wanted to help others through the ordeal.
“After I did my first treatment, I was so sick, and I told my husband, ‘We’ve got to do something about this,’ because I really didn’t know; I didn’t realize it was so bad. For a while we didn’t do anything, then I started feeling better, and I said, ‘We need to do a walk.
“I had no clue what else was going to come along with this. I thought I’d do a walk once a year,” she said. “That was my plan; it wasn’t God’s plan. God’s plan was to take me in another direction.”
That direction began coming into focus after Champagne, of Metairie, offered her friend at least 20 quilts at their August 2014 retreat.
“When I heard her talking about doing something for her walk, making it bigger, more involved, I had a stack of quilts that had no particular purpose,” Champagne recalled. “So I said, ‘I have some quilts. You can have them if you want them. If nobody likes them, you won’t hurt my feelings. They’re not gorgeous, they’re simply quilts. I like to sew. They have no home to go to yet.’”
Berry promptly scooped them up, knowing that cold sensitivity is a common side effect of chemotherapy.
“I was so excited about the quilts, I couldn’t go home. So I went to the oncologist’s office with them that same day,” Berry said.
“They went like hotcakes. I told her I had more if she could use them,” Champagne chimed in.
“I knew I wanted to do it, but I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I knew I couldn’t make enough quilts by myself,” Berry said. “It’s kind of strange. We know it was God, because it took off so quick.”
Out of the “Charlene’s Chemo Quilts” ministry, Holy Trinity Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Foundation was launched.
The foundation’s name refers to the more-difficult-to-treat type of breast cancer Berry had.
“The recipients, they didn’t just appreciate them, to see how they receive these quilts is life-changing,” Champagne said. “It’s not just crying, it’s seeing she was making a difference with a quilt, an instant difference, and it changed her (Berry).”
And behind each patchwork of colorful squares, there is a story, the women said.
How big are the quilts?
“Big enough,” Champagne said.
The quilts, usually intended for one person, range in size. Their ununiformity doesn’t keep them from finding their “forever homes,” as she called them.
“They end up where they’re meant to be,” Champagne said.
And that could be down the street, or across the country. The ministry has mailed quilts to patients in several states, all who learn about “Charlene’s Chemo Quilts” by word of mouth, the group said.
Berry’s husband, the Rev.Charles Berry, is pastor of Purpose and Destiny Outreach Ministry in Greensburg.
“I had a friend who called me on my way home one day, asked me to pray for him, and so we did,” Charles Berry said. “He told me what he was going through, so I went home and we picked out a manly quilt for him.
“It was a perfect size ... when he comes home and grabs his quilt, he and his wife, it’s the perfect size for them to snuggle under so she can comfort him after his treatments.”
Rose Ann Spitale, of Independence, chose a quilt for her sister at a recent informal presentation at Professional Physical Therapy in Amite.
“She’s a big (New Orleans) Saints fan. A lot of Saints players went to see her (in Metairie) when she was taking her treatments, and they gave her a signed football,” Spitale said, eyeing the one black and gold blanket in the bunch.
“Oh, she’s going to be so excited. she doesn’t know about this. Oh, she’s going to treasure this,” Spitale said.
The work of the foundation continues to expand with the formation of a quilting committee, more volunteers, plans for an auction, a gala and other fundraisers, and work toward obtaining its nonprofit 501(c)3 status.
“Every time we think, ‘Oh, I don’t know, are we on the right track?’ God says, ‘Oh, yeah, you are,’ ” Berry said.