There is nothing more heartbreaking than a child stricken with cancer.

Treatment can be long and painful. For families and friends of cancer patients, there is little they can do except offer support and comfort.

However, four sixth graders, twins from Central California and a pair from West Texas, discovered at least one soft and cheerful way of making it a little more comfortable for kids enduring treatments for cancer. It is with cotton.

It’s by making special cotton pillowcases for cancer victims in children’s hospitals in Lubbock, Texas, and Madera, Calif.

Kaylie and Taylor Ogle of Clovis, Calif., and Ashlen Albus of Levelland, Texas, and Kassidy Gandy of Bledsoe, Texas, call themselves “Team Sew-n-Sew” and have delivered more than 150 handmade cotton pillowcases to young cancer victims in the two hospitals.

The idea evolved from a Web-based science, math and technology competition for 6th through 9th grade teams called eCybermission, sponsored by the U.S. Army. Teams propose solutions to real community problems and compete for regional and national awards. eCybermission challenges students to explore how science, math and technology work in their world.

Cotton Incorporated heard about the effort of the quartet of sixth graders and has donated more than 100 yards of cotton fabric — enough for 100 pillowcases -- from CI fiber lab to support the project.

Continuing project

The eCybermission contest is over. Winners were to be announced this month. However, according to the Ogle twins and their mother, Cheryl Ogle, making pillowcases for young cancer patients has become a continuing, family community project because it was so well received and personally gratifying for the girls.

The pillowcase project stemmed from the girls having friends or relatives who were diagnosed with cancer and their desire to help.

As part of the contest, the girls examined satin, cotton, flannel and polyester pillowcases under a microscope and even tested them for flammability.

The true test came when the Ogle twins asked a friend from their church who had been diagnosed with leukemia to “test” the pillowcases for comfort. Her head slipped off the satin one and the polyester model “felt weird,” according to Taylor Ogle.

Kaylie said cotton and flannel won the all-important feel test.

Monica Whitaker, a child-life aid at Children’s Hospital Central California said the soft, colorful pillowcases are particularly meaningful because they are like the much-loved pillowcases from home.

“It lets the kids know that even though they are going through a tough time, there’s still something they can hold onto from home,” Whitaker said in an article on the Ogle twins in the Clovis Independent newspaper.

“Typically, cancer patients are the ones who are in-patient for the longest and might have a need to be cheered up,” said the twins’ mother.

More comfortable

There is also good medical reason for the cotton pillowcases. The skin of cancer patients going through treatment is often sensitive and the homemade, cotton pillowcases are more comfortable than the hospital variety.

Pillowcases and the Texas-California ties are really not coincidental.

Laura Wilbanks is the eCybermission team adviser and a science teacher in the small West Texas town of Whiteface. She and Cheryl Ogle also are sisters.

Also, the pillowcases are a family tradition around the Ogle household where the twins are the youngest of four girls. Over the years, the girls’ mother has made pillowcases as slumber party gifts.

Although the science project is over, Laura Wilbanks said the girls want to continue sewing. The CI fabric donation was one of several donations and they are looking for more. Some of the fabric has designs and caricatures, however, much of it does not and the girls want to personalize the pillowcases.

“The girls are hoping to make contact with the company that makes Sharpie pens and request a donation of colored markers so the kids can doodle on their new pillowcases or collect autographs,” Wilbanks said.

Many donations

Besides the Cotton Incorporated donation, an organization called The Freecycle Network donated fabric.

Lyndia Alexander of Plains, Texas, donated two new sewing machines a bolt of flannel for the Texas pair of Sew-n-Sew, and Wal-Mart in Levelland, Texas gave the Texas girls a $25 gift certificate to buy flannel.

Staffers at both Children’s Hospital Central California and the Covenant Children’s Hospital in Lubbock also have been supportive of the girls’ pillowcase project.

Team Sew-N-Sew created a Web site http://sew-n-sew-girls.tripod.com to teach other children how they can help cancer patients and as a contact point for people who want to donate to the project.

Making pillowcases began initially as a science project. It was educational, but it turned out to be a lot more than that.

“We wanted to do this to cheer up the patients at the hospital,” said Kaylie.

“We want to make them happy and forget that they’re sick for a little bit,” said Taylor.

Mission accomplished, thanks to cotton and caring people.

e-mail:hcline@farmpress.com