Brain cancer survivor makes masks in exchange for St. Jude donations

When Mallory realized the COVID-19 pandemic might affect St. Jude, the place that saved her life, she began making masks.

Mallory measures and cuts her fabric precisely. She sends it through the sewing machine. Her hands, which have never failed her, have already memorized the movements – even though making masks is new to her. It’s amazing what you can get used to and how quickly even strange things become routine.

Since the pandemic began, Mallory has been giving away the masks she sews in exchange for donations to her St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital page. She’s already raised more than $12,000.

“When the virus hit and there was that sudden crisis for masks, I just went out, grabbed a bunch of fabric and supplies, and started making masks,” said Mallory.

She keeps regular business hours, the same her husband, who shares their home office, keeps now that they are home-bound.

“I’ve currently got 51 envelopes stuffed, ranging from one mask to four or five stuffed in one,” said Mallory. “And some people have just said, ‘I’m just making a donation, and you can give the masks to somebody else.’ So that’s been incredibly generous of people.”

She sets alarm reminders so she and her husband can stop at times during the day for tea or walks in the neighborhood. It’s important to have these touchstones of normal life.

The college sweethearts got married this past August and moved to Oregon. They are practically still honeymooners.

Not too long ago, she was job hunting – and she’ll get back to it – but for now, making masks is her primary occupation.

She does it to help keep people safe, but also to give back to St. Jude, the place that saved her life.

Mallory began experiencing the first symptoms of a brain tumor – the headaches and seizures – when she was in kindergarten. For more than four years, she lived with the tumor, a pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma. It was benign, which is not to say good, because it caused her to have several seizures a day, which no medication could touch. She lived a life of blood draws and scans, but no remedy.

The seizures didn’t keep her from being active. She played soccer, did well in school and found confidence in dancing. And she realized a facility for languages early on, checking out language dictionaries to teach herself, including American Sign Language. 

Then one day a doctor from St. Jude saw her brain scans and realized the tumor had changed to cancer.

“I was excited, honestly, when my parents told me that I was going to have this operation, that they were going to take this thing out of my brain that was probably causing the seizures,” said Mallory. “I was like, ‘Yes, please, and thank you. Get this out.’”

St. Jude removed about 4.5 cm of her right temporal lobe and the seizures stopped.

“And just the level of care,” said Mallory. “My doctors, I’d go in and they’d ask me, ‘Hey, are you still playing defense on your soccer team?’ And they’d ask me how the season was going, or they would know if I had an upcoming dance recital. They were so in tune, not just with my medical life, but my life in general. That’s just the unique care that you get at St. Jude, to have doctors who just know you so wholly.”

Normal life continued, but school was challenging until one day in seventh grade, and a Eureka moment, while listening to a lecture on the brain. The tumor had affected her short-term memory, but what if she used sign language to compensate? From then on, she would sign to herself during lectures, as a way of hearing everything twice.

“And in that repetition, that helps it stay in my brain a little better,” said Mallory. “I would just sit at my desk and I would read a question, signing to myself, and it would help me remember parts of the answers.”

Throughout high school she volunteered with an after-school program for deaf children, which helped them and helped her to sync her brain and hands still further.

There is something remarkable about this young woman who donates her time to her church’s sewing ministry, making necessary items for families in Central America and Africa, such as dresses and shorts for the children and cloth pads for the women.

Soft spoken and a self-professed “shy person,” Mallory rarely leaves her house right now except for runs to the grocery store or JOANN Fabrics, and yet, in her own quiet way, she uses the skills she has and builds on them. And uses her gifts to help.

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