Virtua Colleague Volunteers Sewing Skills to Help Breast Cancer Patients

A full-time unit secretary at Virtua Mount Holly Hospital and nursing student at Rowan University, Cynthia Martinez certainly has a lot on her plate. Yet, she still finds time to use her talents and creativity to help others.

Cynthia designs and sews specialized crossbody bags for Virtua breast cancer patients who undergo mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery. The totes hold medical drains the women must wear for one to two weeks after their procedures.

“Traditionally, drains are held by a belt that wraps around the waist. However, they are often uncomfortable,” explained the Burlington County resident. “I designed the cloth purses to be washable and adjustable. They are an attractive and comfy alternative that hugs the drains closer to the body.”

Joseph W. Lombardo, oncology nurse director at Virtua Mount Holly Hospital, noted that medical companies make similar products, but they’re not exactly fashionable.

“Before COVID-19, we had access to bags that our volunteers made, but without volunteer services this past year, our supply ran out. Our patients have always appreciated these pouches,” he said. “They see them as a personal touch to their healing and love the fact that someone made them just for them. Cynthia has done a wonderful job creating the new pouches, and we’re working on a plan to make them available to all oncology breast reconstruction patients at Virtua.”

Cynthia adores sewing. As a child, she learned from her grandmother, who sewed all the time. So, when she learned about a need for the customized drain bags, she jumped right in. Cynthia researched sizes and styles online, watched YouTube videos, consulted with a close family friend who is an expert seamstress, and together with Joe, created a prototype.

“I wasn’t satisfied with the first one I made, but, like anything, the more you practice, the better you become,” she said. “Eventually, I figured it out, and I’m really happy with them now.”

After surgery, patients often leave with four to six drains, which can become heavy, Cynthia explained. One of her bags holds three to four drains, so each woman receives two stylish sacks to take home.

Cynthia (who goes by Synthea when signing her designs) uses colorful, pretty materials. She’s drawn to cheerful patterns with butterflies and flowers that she hopes will make women feel good. Between her job and schoolwork, she dedicates a day every couple of weeks to crafting the satchels and manages to sew 10 to 15 bags per session.

“I love sharing my skills in this way,” she beamed. “Each purse represents a milestone in the patient’s cancer journey.”

“This is a perfect example of how Virtua colleagues collaborate to serve our patients best,” said Kim Mazzei-Roth, vice president of Virtua’s oncology service line. “Joe and Cynthia found a way to deliver an extra level of care to patients undergoing cancer treatment, so they not only feel cared for, but also cared about. It’s one of many examples of how the Penn Medicine | Virtua Cancer team provides attention to detail at every level.”

Renowned Cancer Care
The Penn Medicine | Virtua Cancer Program offers the strength of two renowned health care leaders and the most advanced technology and treatment options right here in South Jersey. To learn more about the program or to connect for care, visit

Updated July 22, 2021

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