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Published on April 18, 2016

Dignity Robes Offer Compassion and Comfort

Sometimes even the smallest thing can make a big difference. For women undergoing breast cancer treatment at Avera Cancer Institute Sioux Falls, Dignity Robes are one of those things.

Dignity Robes are essentially shirts with Velcro down the front and sides. The innovative design provides maximum coverage and comfort during radiation treatments. Velcro seams allow that only areas to be treated need be exposed. Dignity Robes are created by six volunteers who meet each Wednesday in the Prairie Center to sew them in assembly-line fashion.

“Receiving radiation treatment can be overwhelming, so our goal is to help our patients relax as much as possible,” says Dawn Sommer, a Radiation Therapist at Avera Medical Group Radiation Oncology. “When they can relax and stay in the same position during each session, that allows us to treat the area with even more precision. The benefits of wearing a Dignity Robe are both physical and emotional.”

Sommer first learned about Dignity Robes while attending the 2010 ASTRO National Conference for Radiation Oncology. She felt a strong desire to offer them to patients at Avera, so she applied for the Pay It Forward grant, which is funded by Avera employees. After receiving grant funds, she organized a team of volunteers and materials. Throughout the past two years, this small but dedicated team has given away more than 1,000 Dignity Robes.

Cancer Survivor Gives Back

One of those volunteers is also a breast cancer survivor. Sandy Wodzinski of Sioux Falls was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2014. After surgery in March, she was scheduled for radiation treatment at the Prairie Center in May. Wodzinski met Sommer during her first treatment.

“Dawn was one of my favorite therapists because she was always very friendly,” recalls Wodzinski. “When I received my Dignity Robe, it gave me the security of having that extra coverage and helped me feel more comfortable and relaxed. For me, the radiation process was painless, so getting past the emotional insecurity and fear was the biggest hurdle. My Dignity Robe and the radiation therapists really helped.”

“There’s an emotional component to healing too,” says Sommer. “Giving a patient a Dignity Robe is like giving her a hug. It’s a simple thing, but it lets her know that we care about how she feels.”

Wodzinski was so touched by the Dignity Robes project that she now finds purpose in volunteering her time to make them for other women undergoing breast cancer treatment.

“It’s a wonderful way for me to give back. I understand what the women who’ll wear them are going through and I also know how nice it is to receive one, so it means a lot to be a part of what they’re doing,” she says.

“Dignity Robes is just one way that we’re able to carry out Avera’s mission of compassion,” says Sommer. “It’s amazing to see the impact that they’ve had on our patients and I’m so thankful for the team of volunteers who make it possible.”

Today the project is funded by the Avera McKennan Foundation.

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