Florence S It Gives Me a Sense of Calm

“I pray for good outcomes and that everything will go well—and so far, it has.”

Florence Schwab, 56, of Toms River found herself shaky and overcome with anxiety as she got into the standing position required for a follow-up mammogram in November 2021.

It had been more than a year since she’d undergone her partial mastectomy and begun rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments for breast cancer recommended by her team of oncologists and radiation oncologists at Community Medical Center (CMC). “I was nervous after all the scans and rescans and worrying about the results,” Florence says. With her treatments complete, this mammogram would provide a key indicator of her outlook over the next several years and potentially the rest of her life.

Across the room stood Jennifer Schinder, RT, a technologist assisting in the procedure, who noticed Florence was nervous and understandably upset. Schinder reached into her purse, walked over to Florence and handed her a small pocket quilt with a cross sewn inside. Schinder said it was a “care square” that her mother had made.

Thanking Schinder, Florence held onto the square for the rest of the mammogram, which yielded positive results: She was cancer-free and has been ever since. “I say my prayers with it,” Florence says. “I pray for good outcomes and that everything will go well—and so far, it has.”

Today, Florence continues bringing the care square to all medical appointments and follow-up consultations on her calendar.

“It’s always right in my pocket for every single doctor’s visit,” she says. “It gives me a sense of calm during anxiety-provoking experiences.”

A Soft Pick-Me-Up

Jennifer and DoloresSchinder’s mother, Dolores Stracensky, 78, of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, started making the squares as a hobby. An avid quilter for 50 years, she wanted to create a small item that she could give to others who were going through a difficult time—an item that could lift spirits and inspire hope.

“Every now and then, I’d see someone—for example, a waitress at a restaurant—who looked like they were in need of a pick-me-up,” Dolores says. “People are often very happy that I thought about giving squares to them. For me, it’s just rewarding seeing someone smile.”

Schinder approached her mother about making care squares in bulk and sending them up north for biopsy patients at CMC’s Comprehensive Breast Center. “Florence was the inspiration for us to do this for our patients,” Schinder says. “I actually had given her my own pocket quilt that was in my bag. She really was so happy—that’s how this idea came about.” Dolores agreed to the effort, donating her time and materials.

Comprehensive Breast Center patients have since embraced care squares as an emblem of hope, a sign of unity and a reminder that they’re not alone on their journey toward better health.

'Love and Blessings'

care squareEach care square measures 3 by 3 inches. Many contain a little red heart at the center while others contain a cross. On the back, squares are inscribed with a text that reads: “This pocket quilt was made especially for you to slip in your pocket. Throughout the day when your fingers touch the heart [or cross] inside the quilt, may your anxiety be replaced with calmness and healing. Keep as a tangible symbol of your strength and our commitment to your wellbeing. Donated with love and blessings from Jen’s mom.”

Dolores has made about 400 care squares for CMC patients. “My kids almost think I do production-line sewing,” she says. “I have to press all my fabric, then cut it in strips, and it’s just cutting and sewing and cutting and sewing. It takes me maybe 15 minutes to make one, and I make several at a time.” As she spoke, she noted she had just finished 70 that morning and pinned the little saying on the back.

For Dolores, it’s a passion project that she doesn’t measure in hours.

“You can’t really put a price on time,” she says. “You have it and have to use it wisely.” She also doesn’t— and can’t—put a price on providing others a reminder from a stranger that they’re not alone, especially as they go through one of the hardest challenges they’ve ever had to face.

The care square Florence has carried remains a source of comfort as she continues to be monitored every six months for her testing and every three months by her oncologist. “I hold it tight,” she says, “and it makes everything feel better.”

RWJBarnabas Health and Community Medical Center, in partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey—the state’s only NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center— provide close-to-home access to the most advanced treatment options. Call 844-CANCERNJ or visit Cancer Services.