Pillows with a purpose

School social worker starts business to instill hope in cancer survivors
Aug. 23, 2014 @ 12:22 PM

About a year and a half ago, Kobie Edwards was searching for a gift to commemorate the anniversary of a close friend’s cancer survivorship.

“I was disappointed to find no items that I felt appropriately celebrated the significance of the occasion,” she said.

Edwards decided she would design her own meaningful present — and Kobie’s Keepsakes was born.

Through the business she founded, Edwards has created a variety of hand-sewn stuffed animals and pillows celebrating the progress of cancer survivors.

They include ribbons that can be attached to buttons on the products to honor each year of survivorship.

The keepsakes are also designed with symbols, patterns and colors to support families affected by autism and specific kinds of cancers.

Edwards, a social worker at E.M. Rollins and Zeb Vance elementary schools, has a personal connection to the disease.

“Not only have I lost a number of loved ones to cancer, I have also been deeply inspired by the courage and resilience of friends and family who are cancer survivors,” she said. “Loved ones lost to cancer and those who are survivors inspired me to design and hand make pillows for cancer patients and survivors as well as to honor our loved ones lost to cancer.”

Edwards also started designing memory pillows for families who have lost loved ones.

She said she came up with the idea of using teddy bears because she wanted to have something to give to children with cancer.

“My vision was to give the bear to children in hospital,” she said. “It’s something you can cuddle with.”

While Edwards sews all her pillows and bears herself, she learned the trade only within the past few months.

“As recently as this past February, I had absolutely no sewing experience when I was inspired to design and sew my cancer pillows,” she said. “Once I decided to make the pillows, I found a sewing class and signed on for private lessons with someone I count among my close friends and advisers, Darlena Helme. She had me making my first pillows by March, and she continues to serve as my teacher and good friend.”

Edwards has a Facebook page and is working to sell her products on etsy.com.

So far, she has sold more than 25 pillows and bears.

Her plan is to sell her keepsakes in hospital gift shops.

She has contracts with Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania hospitals to sell her pillows and bears at their gift shops.

She is also selling her merchandise at a store with locations in Smithfield and Cary called Lovely Lady — which sells wigs, hats, scarves and other products designed for cancer patients.

Leonie Gill, a kindergarten teacher at Zeb Vance, recently celebrated 10 years of being cancer-free.

“I have always been supportive of Kobie and her business because what she is doing increases awareness and celebration,” she said. “It’s really important — these milestones. As a cancer survivor, you want to celebrate every little win and every big win you have.”

Gill said Edwards designed a customized pillow to mark her 10-year anniversary.

“My daughter — who is almost 29 — was with me every step of the way when I was in my treatment,” she said. “So I gave her the pillow, and it was a very touching and sensitive moment for both us. It was an opportunity for me to show my daughter how much I appreciated her being there for me.”

Gill said the pillow is beautiful.

“It almost feels like a piece of artwork,” she said.

With 14.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S., Edwards said she believes a cancer diagnosis is no longer the death sentence as it may have once have been.

“I’ve always had a passion for wanting to help families,” Edwards said. “I want them to know there is hope out there.”

Clara Thorpe, who works with Edwards at Zeb Vance, said she recently lost her cousin to kidney failure and another cousin was diagnosed with lupus — a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs.

She said Edwards made a lupus bear and a remembrance T-shirt for Thorpe and her family.

“For me, it’s almost like having closure because even though she is gone, I have something here,” Thorpe said. “We just wanted something to represent her life.”

Thorpe said her aunt was overjoyed when she gave her Edwards’ T-shirt.

“This really impacted me because all I did was give her a shirt and a bear, and it was like giving her a million dollars,” she said. “Kobie is an awesome person. She has a beautiful spirit and will do whatever she can to help someone.”


Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.