Two breast cancer survivors make pillows to ease women's pain after surgery

Alice Bowlin and Nikki Moore make over 300 heart-shaped pillows a year that help relieve physical and emotional pain following breast cancer surgery.

'The number of women who are having the surgery is phenomenal. It’s just hard to believe'

Nikki Moore, left, sews the pillows and Alice Bowlin, right, stuffs them. (Aya Al-Hakim/CBC )

Two breast cancer survivors in Nova Scotia are creating heart-shaped pillows to help ease the emotional and physical pain experienced by women after mastectomies and surgeries to remove lymph nodes.

Attached to the pillow is a strap, which helps hold it underneath the arm. The armpit becomes very sore following surgery and the pillow helps alleviate some of that pain.

The pillows also come with a special bag to capture blood and other liquid draining from the area that was operated on.

"I have been a nine-year breast cancer survivor and we didn't have those pillows when I was done, so I thought how nice it is for somebody to be able to have that, to give them comfort and make them feel good," said Alice Bowlin, a retired nurse and board member of the Breast Cancer Action Nova Scotia.

(Aya Al-Hakim/CBC)

The 81-year-old started the project in 2012 after one of her fellow board members suggested it. Bowlin later realized she needed help, and that's when Nikki Moore stepped in four years ago.

After her own surgery five years ago, Moore said Breast Cancer Action Nova Scotia gave her a pillow to help her with her discomfort.

"At first I didn't just wear it to bed, but I wore it all day," she said.

Moore does the sewing at home in the evening or on her free time, and takes the pillows to Bowlin for stuffing. Moore and her husband then take them to the hospital.

"My husband and I had this huge bag of about 30 pillows and at the hospital there were two ladies, about to get their surgery, and they were so happy, looking through the bag and picking out colours," said Moore.

Bowlin and Moore make over 300 pillows each year, for free.

"The number of women who are having the surgery is phenomenal. It's just hard to believe," said Bowlin.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, it is estimated that in 2017 an average of 72 Canadian women a day will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

"Hopefully, we'll have a cure. We just think about it all the time and worry about these girls," Bowlin said.

(Brian Mackay/CBC)

Bowlin and Moore have recently received some attentional after being featured in the book Faces Facing Cancer, which was created by Katrin's Karpackage.

Katrin's Karepackage is a charitable program created in partnership with the Canadian Cancer Society to offset the travel costs of cancer patients travelling for cancer-related appointments. ​

The book profiles a diverse group of 50 Nova Scotians and their experiences with cancer. According to the website, all funds raised by the book goes toward offsetting travel costs.

"It feels wonderful to be part of that project, to help people," said Bowlin.

In the future, Bowlin and Moore hope the pillow project will be taken up by people across the country to help support breast cancer patients.

About the Author

Aya Al-Hakim


Aya Al-Hakim is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. She can be reached at