ABOUT THE FOUNDER
Maureen Lutz of Ridgefield, Connecticut, was 57 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After two lumpectomies, she underwent a mastectomy of her right breast and tram flap reconstruction in March 2005. Her recovery was challenging and during that time, she kept notes on how she might have been better prepared for the experience. That is what led to the creation of the Necessities Bag. The first bag was given to a patient in July 2005 by Dr. David Passaretti, her plastic surgeon. Within the first six months, she introduced the program to breast surgeons throughout Fairfield County. In the next two years, the Necessities Bag was embraced by surgeons and nurses throughout the state of Connecticut. It was not long before word spread to nearby communities in New York and New Jersey. Over the next ten years, thousands of mastectomy patients were provided this unique and personal support through her efforts, the efforts of countless volunteers, and the formation of independent affiliates in eight states.
This is Maureen’s story in her own words.
I remember the exact moment I was told I had breast cancer. My mind went into overdrive to absorb the tidal wave of information about mastectomy and the options for reconstruction. Robotically, I went through the motions and faced the machines that peered inside me and the doctors who marked me for surgery. Breast cancer took control of my life.
As surgery day approached, I ran around doing everything I could think of to get myself prepared. Up until the very last minute, I was nagged by the feeling that I should have asked more questions about what was to come.
After my mastectomy, I hurt everywhere, which was no surprise. What did surprise me were the little things that made me cry, like not being able to reach for a cup of water. Homecoming produced one crushing moment after another. My feet swelled and I could not get shoes on. I needed help to dress. Surgical drains hung off my body and ointment seeped through bandages onto my clothes.
Eventually I figured it out – something women do all the time. I discovered how sleeveless cotton undershirts were a comfortable and inexpensive garment that kept bandages in place and surgical drains secure. Through trial and error I learned which bandages provided the most comfort and that only paper tape did not irritate my sore skin. Lip balm became as precious as gold.
I wanted to tell other women facing mastectomy what to really expect, help articulate those unasked questions, and give them back some sense of control. It also occurred to me how quickly the expense of bandages mounted up, which is the last thing some women need on top of everything else. But the supplies are necessary. That’s how I conceived the idea for the Necessities Bag.
With my new found perspective on what I should have done to prepare for the debilitating effects of major surgery, I put together a pamphlet suggesting how to pack for the hospital and what to have ready for homecoming. Then I went shopping and filled a bag with essentials, like cotton undershirts, bandages that were super soft, gentle paper tape, personal hygiene items, lip balm, and a few other things.
I knew that for my idea to have the greatest impact, mastectomy patients needed to receive the information and supplies before surgery to get organized while they could still do things for themselves. I reached out to my own surgeon for approval and support. His response was enthusiastic and that enthusiasm continued as I approached more surgeons and nurses in my community. Volunteers appeared out of nowhere. Funding came from people who felt that the Necessities Bag was a way for them to make a very personal and sincere gesture of support to a loved one going through a difficult experience.
I am grateful to everyone who encouraged me to do this; my husband, my children, and my sister. I never imagined my life would include breast cancer, but I got through it with the support of a loving family and caring friends. My new challenge is to raise another woman’s spirits and then I will have truly accomplished something remarkable.
Maureen Hogan Lutz
Maureen’s efforts to reach out to woman who had survived breast cancer continued with her book, Diamonds in the Snow: Rescuing the Senses in the Aftermath of Breast Cancer. It discusses post-breast cancer challenges and addresses how to navigate the “road back” utilizing the five senses as a guide.
If you would like to learn more about Maureen, visit her website:
To obtain a copy of Diamonds, contact Maureen directly. It is also available for purchase on Amazon.com.