Five friends gathered at the Hays home of one of the women Thursday morning, sitting around tables pushed together that were piled with a variety of fabric and two sewing machines.
Of the five, only two — Donna O’Brien and Sue Ferland — had much experience with crafts and sewing. The others — Judy Stegman, Donna Stejskal and Denise Haynes — not so much.
“I don’t know how to sew. I can do some crafts,” Stegman said.
So they sat at the tables, cutting around patterns for rice heating packs and other small items and talking about what they always talk about at their get-togethers — cancer and helping those with the disease.
It was also a bit of a memorial for one who is no longer among them.
Four years ago, Stegman, who had undergone treatment for inflammatory breast cancer and beat the odds she was given, started Your Voice Through Cancer as a way to offer the kind of support for cancer patients she found was lacking in the area.
One of the first people she spoke to about forming the group was her friend Mary Braden, a fellow breast cancer survivor.
Braden had been a founding member of the Hays breast cancer support group Sisters of Survivorship, had chaired Relay for Life of Ellis County and supported the Komen Race for the Cure in Hays.
“She said 'let’s go with it.' The next thing I know, I had a phone call saying ‘Judy, we’re official, we’re a legal nonprofit.’ She just ran with it,” Stegman said of Braden.
Braden was on the board of Your Voice Through Cancer and led support group meetings for survivors, even as her own health took a turn for the worse.
Braden died in February.
After her death, Stegman called her board together.
“I said, ‘This is it. We’re going to fold Your Voice,” she said.
“I didn’t know if I could do it anymore. A lot of it was Mary and I,” Stegman said.
But soon after, Stegman received a call from another friend with news. Braden’s family was donating money to Your Voice Through Cancer in her memory.
“Donna O’Brien said, ‘I think Mary’s trying to tell you something,’ ” Stegman said.
It still took a bit more convincing, however.
A few months ago, O’Brien called Stegman to tell her Braden’s family had given some boxes of items they thought Your Voice Through Cancer should have. Stegman joined O’Brien at her home to go through them. The boxes were full of fabric and other crafting supplies.
“We get to the last box, and it was full of stuff that Mary had done while she was sick,” Stegman said.
“We had no idea she had all this stuff in there,” said O’Brien, also a board member for Your Voice Through Cancer. “No one knew she’d done it all.”
The box was full of hand-made quilted table runners, “dammit dolls,” coin purses, potholders, tic-tac-toe travel games for kids, scarves and more.
“I think Mary’s knocking on the door telling me we’re not done,” Stegman said.
A quilted item by Braden has been donated to the silent auction at Saturday’s Relay for Life in Hays, but many of them will be included in Your Voice Through Cancer’s annual craft boutique.
“Mary Braden has a lot to do with this year’s craft fair, even though she’s not here,” Stegman said.
The craft boutique is the first Saturday in November and features only hand-made items. Last year’s show attracted 38 vendors and 700 people, Stegman said.
The proceeds from booth rental and raffles go to Your Voice Through Cancer, which uses the funds to help cancer patients pay for medicine or travel expenses for treatment. Stegman said the group has helped about 40 people in four years.
“Mary always told me, she said, ‘Judy, if you can reach one person, we’ve helped somebody,’ ” Stegman said.
And so, Braden’s friends decided to carry on her work, getting together to make more items from the fabric she collected. O’Brien found patterns for products she thought cancer patients or others with health issues might appreciate — cat-shaped rice warming pads, face masks for those with respiratory issues, bags to fit on walkers.
“My hope is people will just come and see something they’d like to try,” O’Brien said of the group’s craft days.
For more information about Your Voice Through Cancer or the craft boutique, text Stegman at 785-259-8133 or O’Brien at 785-639-3690.