One of the cornerstones to caring for the whole person is the belief that a healthy mind, body and spirit requires more than a prescription or surgical intervention—humanity helps in ways medicine cannot. Avista Adventist Hospital CEO Isaac Sendros adds, “When we can partner with our community to deliver on that philosophy, the results are even more profound.”

Former patient Jennifer Willard and her Colorado-based JWILL Pink Village Pillow Project is just one powerful example of how compassion and empathy can change outcomes for patients.

One in eight women gets diagnosed with breast cancer. Statistically speaking, we will all know somebody in our lifetime who gets the disease. However, being just 41 and with no family history of breast cancer, Willard never thought that somebody would be her. “It was breast cancer awareness month 2015 and Avista was campaigning to encourage women to get their mammograms. I’m so thankful I didn’t blow it off another year,” she says.

What happened next changed everything. Centura radiologist Dr. Raymond Mencini said the phrase we all fear: I see something I don’t like.

“I became determined to exhaust my options and start fighting this deadly disease with the full vengeance it deserves,” says Willard. Her next move happened fast. At sister facility Littleton Adventist Hospital, Willard had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstructive surgery.

The road to recovering wasn’t easy, but Willard says the love, support and kindness of others brought her through the difficult days. Particularly helpful was the gift of a small heart-shaped pillow created by hospital volunteers to provide comfort and support between her incisions and her car seatbelt.

The handwritten note of support attached to the pillow made the most significant impact. “It made an impression on my heart. It brought me not only physical but emotional comfort,” says Willard. “I could feel the love that went into creating it.”

Realizing the hospital where her journey began didn’t have a supply of these same pillows, Willard decided to create the JWILL Pink Village Pillow Project and bring it to Avista. “I asked my friends and neighbors to help support this project, and the response has been overwhelming. Dozens showed up at sewing parties, friends donated money and supplies, and the local high school volleyball team even helped with a fundraising event. My village made it all possible,” she says.

In 2017 Willard made her first delivery of 175 pillows for 175 local breast cancer patients. “I wanted each of them to know they are not alone,” she adds.

What started small has grown larger than Willard ever imagined. Today, Willard and her team of volunteers are helping breast cancer patients across Colorado heal from mastectomy surgery far beyond what doctors can do with medicine alone. To date, she’s been able to provide more than 2,500 pillows to patients in need.

Antoinette Paniagua, breast health nurse navigator at Avista, said the pillows help patients in the spiritual and mental healing process. “Most of the time, when I give the patients the pillows, they tear up,” Paniagua says. “Knowing someone else cares about them, they get very emotional,” she adds.

“I was in their shoes, and here I am now. It still matters to me,” Willard says. “There are still people getting diagnosed.”

Avista CEO Isaac Sendros concludes, “Our patients are our friends and neighbors who we care about deeply. It feels amazing to see people like Jennifer Willard return to Avista and our other Centura hospitals to partner with us on our calling to extend the healing ministry of Christ.”

Learn more about JWill Pink Village at

Submitted by Wendy Forbes, director of media relations and public relations for Centura Health.