Behind the Mask | OCRA Heroes

Noel Rademacher, a 44-year-old mother of two and ovarian cancer survivor in Spokane, WA, began wearing a mask at the end of February. She didn’t care what people thought. She just knew it was the decent thing to do. Her husband Thomas is an anesthesiologist, responsible for intubating and extubating patients, and so she knew all too well the risk of virus transmission. 

“I really didn’t care if people looked at me like I was a weirdo,” Noel said. “Or if they thought I might be sick. And that’s how it all started.”

An ovarian cancer awareness mask is born

She realized that people associate ribbons, no matter the color, with health-related issues, and thought maybe there would be greater acceptance of mask wearing in general if people understood immediately, from the design of the mask, that someone wearing it may have cancer, or may be caring for someone with cancer. 

Teal Mask

Noel’s masks are beautiful and the sentiments behind them, even more so. Purchase some for yourself, or someone you love, and support life-saving ovarian cancer research >>

So Noel searched out fabric suppliers to find a pattern with teal ribbons and made some masks for herself, for the women in her Survivors Teaching Students group, and for her gynecologic oncologist to give out to patients in her practice. Her gyn oc suggested that Noel put these masks out there for a wider audience who may share her feelings about why people wear masks and what it may symbolize: Protection of self, someone you love, and other human beings.

“I’ve never sewn anything in my life!”

Prior to the pandemic, Noel had a sewing machine that she had never used. “I knew how to thread it, but that was it.” So she watched YouTube videos and made, as she puts it, some pretty horrible masks in the beginning. 

Now, Noel sells her masks for $20-25 each, depending on the fabric style, and donates all proceeds to OCRA. As of this writing, she has made 67 masks. It takes about 40 minutes to make each one, because she includes a pocket for a filter and wire threading around the nose.

“I want the person wearing them to know they are made with love and have a few extra components to protect them,” Noel said.

She packages them and sends them out with love, too. One customer included a note in the order saying how excited she was to find teal ribbon masks because her mother had passed away from ovarian cancer. Noel sent an extra mask to her with a note in return that said, “Give this mask to someone else you love so they can also support your mom’s memory.”

Noel feels a sense of calm as she sews (a welcome relief to caring day in and day out for four- and five-year-old girls!) and appreciates the alone time where she can actually complete something, with a tangible result. She downloaded Pride and Prejudice a couple weeks ago and made 10 masks in one day.

“Who doesn’t love listening to someone with an English accent? And it’s a love story. Who doesn’t love that?” Noel said. “It did kind of shock me that it was a 13-hour love story.”

The mindset behind the mask

Noel likens the decision to wear a mask with the decision one makes about vaccinating their children. “For me, it’s just about being a decent human being,” she says, “and protecting mankind.”

She sees herself as someone who is responsible for “tiny humans,” a father who is immunocompromised and her 96-year-old grandmother, among others.

Noel and daughters

“Who likes to wear a mask? Who likes the sweaty breath? It’s not an enjoyable experience for anyone,” she said. “But if this is the smallest and biggest gift I can give to my own kids, then I will wear a mask for the rest of my life if that’s what I have to do.”

Or, as she elegantly puts it, “I don’t want my 100-mile-per-hour spit coming into your face, so I’m going to wear a mask because I want to protect you and your children as well.”

Even her young girls are getting used to wearing them (“we put them on in the car and say, ‘let’s sing songs!’”) and are lucky to have a mom who was able to make them masks with sparkly unicorns.

Learning from the past

Noel is not afraid to share the details of her own health crisis. In short, she came home from her honeymoon in 2012, and two weeks later, was going in for CT scans and then surgery. Looking back on it, the signs of ovarian cancer were there, but like most people, she ignored them. And why wouldn’t she? Noel was a physically-active woman in her 30’s. But she says if it wasn’t for being married to a physician, she might not have gone to the doctor.

“He’s my best friend,” she said of Thomas, “and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.” 

She also credits her best friends Tammy, Sunrise and Sunshine (yes, those are their real names!) with getting her through the darkest of times. And her father, who battled stage 4 colon cancer 22 years before, for giving her the most important lesson of all: every day is a bonus day.

Noel and friends

Noel wishes everyone could walk around with the same mindset of not taking things for granted, and feels that perhaps we have become better at recognizing these bonus days after struggling with a massive world shift in the past few months.

“Of course, there will always be someone who says, ‘I’m not going to wear a mask because it goes against my civil liberties,’” Noel said. “But it’s not against human decency. That’s the thing I always think about.”

Noel’s masks are beautiful and the sentiments behind them, even more so. Purchase some for yourself, or someone you love, and support life-saving ovarian cancer research >>

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