Four years ago, at the age of 38, Tracy Bunch went in for a routine doctor's exam and was informed that she had an aggressive form of breast cancer. Bunch did not have any family history of cancer and was shocked at the news.
"But I told everybody and then I started the process of surgery, of chemotherapy and radiation," said Bunch, who lives in Ashburn. "That took about a year, and so far, so good — I celebrate four years in October."
When Bunch was diagnosed with cancer, she was president of the Lambda Kappa Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. The Lambda Kappa Omega chapter was established in 1976 and is made up of 113 members hailing from the Fairfax County region. Bunch's sorority sisters supported her during her treatments, and by the time she finished, she had come up with an idea. She approached her sisters about the possibility of doing a service project in which they would all get together to sew soft head covers for women suffering from breast cancer.
"When you go through chemotherapy you lose your hair and your scalp gets really tender, so you need something really soft to cover your head," said Bunch. "Plus it's something to make you feel pretty because you just don't feel so pretty when you are going through chemo."
Bunch received a cap from a charitable organization during her treatment, and the gift inspired her to find a way to do the same for others. The members of the Lambda Kappa Omega chapter were enthusiastic about the project, particularly because Bunch was not the only one of them to suffer through a cancer diagnosis that year.
"It was a really hard year for us with cancer," said Bunch. "Three of our members were diagnosed with breast cancer, one had lung cancer, and then several of our members' husbands were diagnosed with cancer."
THE FIRST YEAR of the project, the women tried to follow a specific pattern for caps, but were unable to figure it out. After some trial and error, they came up with their own head wrap design and the "Kozy Kerchief" was born.
"They are actually a lot more versatile than the caps anyway," said Jacqueline Rosier, a Great Falls resident and president of the Educational and Charitable Foundation of Lambda Kappa Omega. "You can wear them as head scarves, as bandanas, as head wraps or use them as lap blankets."
The Educational and Charitable Foundation of Lambda Kappa Omega is the philanthropic arm of the organization. The 501(c)(3), non-profit foundation provides scholarships and other educational and charitable services to individuals, families, groups and organizations, regardless of race, religion and ethnicity.
The Lambda Kappa Omega yearly sewing bee has evolved into a finely tuned production. The first year, the group was able to make 16 kerchiefs. By the second year, they had nailed down a specific kerchief pattern, and had also figured out how to make the caps. This year, the group created 10 caps and 100 kerchiefs, all of which will be distributed at local hospitals and cancer treatment centers. The kerchiefs will be delivered in October, as it is a month traditionally designated for breast cancer awareness.
"We started out just giving them to women with breast cancer, but now we distribute them to women with all types of cancer," said Rosier. "We especially target low income women, creating a gift of encouragement to let them know that they are not alone."
THIS YEAR'S BEE took place on Sept. 16 at the Great Falls home of current Lambda Kappa Omega chapter president, Brenda Welburn. A total of 60 Lambda Kappa Omega volunteers worked in two different shifts, camped out at their station assignments in Welburn's basement.
"We have the cutting area, the pinning area, then a group of sewers that use machines to sew all the way around except for one little opening, and then we have the hand stitchers, and then the ironers and the baggers," said Welburn.
The Lambda Kappa Omega volunteers and their kerchiefs were recently featured on Channel 9 News, and after the show, Jacqueline Rosier received a call from someone who wanted to purchase a kozy kerchief for her sister. Rosier said the kerchiefs were not for sale, but she would be happy to send one.
"The Educational and Charitable Foundation is where we get the money to make these — they are a labor of love," said Rosier.
Today, Tracy Bunch is healthy and the proud mother of a 3-year-old daughter. During a recent doctor's visit she saw a woman wearing one of the Lambda Kappa Omega kozy kerchiefs.
"It felt really good to see that," said Bunch. "We are dealing with cancer so much more these days — the face of cancer is not old anymore… and women have to look out for other women."