Shirts to make chemo a little easier

Zippered shirts allow easier access to port-a-caths, which are inserted under the skin in the chest of a cancer patient

Shirts to make chemo a little easier

Photo credit: Julie Middleton

Zippered T-shirts emblazoned with dinosaurs and sparkly unicorns are helping make kids’ cancer treatments a little bit easier.

Hospital visits aren’t easy on anyone, and for kids going through cancer treatments, having to remove their shirt to enable medical staff to access their port — a device implanted under the skin that acts as a permanent IV connector — can add to their anxiety.

Mom creates not-for-profit Zippaport 

Julie Middleton’s daughter Sadie was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on Christmas Eve of 2019, at the age of 4. After Sadie had a port inserted and started chemotherapy treatment, Middleton searched online for a solution that would make accessing the device on her chest less stressful.

“I actually found some shirts that were similar to ours, but they were in the U.S., and it was at the beginning of COVID-19 when nothing was moving across the border,” Middleton said.

Not only were they not readily available, but the shirts Middleton found were plain shirts and not small enough for all kids. With some sewing experience, Middleton pieced together one of Sadie’s old shirts and a sweater, sewed in a zipper, and came up with a shirt that worked. After posting the creation to her Instagram page and having other parents express an interest, Middleton shared it to an online moms’ group for children with cancer.

“I said “does anybody else want this?” and there was a ton of interest and people offering help. I got some donations of shirts and it just sort of exploded from there because there was such a need for it and such a gap in Canada.”

Middleton launched the not-for-profit Zippaport soon after, to bring the shirts to children across Canada.

“We recently received a zippaport shirt for our 4-year-old daughter and she absolutely LOVED it! She was so proud wearing it to the hospital today and it made the whole port access so much quicker and smoother.” Cindy Barton

Pearl Barton rocks her Zippaport shirt. credit: Cindy Barton

Shirts are altered by volunteers

Without a children’s clothing partner, Middleton scours the clearance section at stores such as Carter’s to find funky and age-appropriate short and long-sleeved shirts that kids will enjoy wearing. Individuals also donate shirts directly to her at her location in Toronto, or through online shopping with Zippaport as the shipping address. Local volunteers then sew in the left or right-sided zippers that open from the neckline down.

Photo credit: Alexandra Frankel

Sizes available are generally from 2-16, but Middleton will get shirts for younger and older ages. “If there’s somebody who needs an adult shirt or somebody who needs a six months shirt, we’ll get it for them. We don’t leave anybody out.”

Find styles online

Parents can check out the selection and sizes through the Zippaport website, and receive two shirts at no cost. Each additional shirt is sold for a suggested donation of $15 to cover production and shipping costs. Orders can be shipped across Canada and typically take about a week to receive.

Show your support by spreading the word, and making a monetary or shirt donation through www.zippaport.ca You can also follow Zippaport on social media at @zippaportshirts

Shirts to make chemo a little easier
Julie and Sadie Middleton.
Photo credit: Julie Middleton