Scarves for Cancer Caregivers
Why I knitted scarves for often forgotten fellow caregivers.
Still Knitting Scarves
My third grade teacher Mrs. Sachs taught me to knit.
With each stitch I learned the importance of patience, practice, and the beauty of imperfection.
I am still knitting scarves. Through out the years I have knitted many perfectly imperfect scarves.
I knitted a very wide scarf that resembles a mini afghan in my daughter’s school colors — grey and navy blue. I got a little carried away with the stitch count.
I knitted a pretty decent scarf in my son’s school colors — maroon and gold. It looks like Harry Potter’s scarf.
I knit yarn remnants and create a mix-matched scarf of its own.
I have knitted scarves for my parents, my husband, children, niece, children-in-law, grandchildren, and myself. My scarves receive compliments from family, friends, my students, and perfect strangers.
And I have knitted scarves for perfect strangers — fellow cancer caregivers.
Knitting to Help Me Cope as a Caregiver
The last scarf I knitted for myself was in 2018. I posted a picture on Facebook of the warm and cozy blue/violet scarf wrapped around my neck. A friend suggested I start selling my scarves.
Her suggestion motivated me to continue knitting. I began to knit a pink scarf a couple of months later in January 2019 — ten months after my husband Jon was diagnosed with stage 4 rectal cancer that metastasized to his right lung.
Along with running and writing, knitting helped me to cope with my husband’s life altering diagnosis and my new and overwhelming life as a cancer caregiver.
By December 2019, I had knitted seven scarves. I no longer wanted to sell my scarves.
I gifted two of the scarves to my grandchildren — a small black/gray scarf to my grandson, age 3, and a longer pink scarf to my granddaughter, age 4.
And I thought about fellow cancer caregivers who sit by their loved ones during chemo infusions at the cancer treatment center my husband visits every other Wednesday.
Scarves for Caregivers
Instead of selling my scarves, I gifted them to my husband’s oncologist and to caregivers at the cancer treatment center.
While Jon was getting chemo last December before Christmas, I gifted Jon’s oncologist one of my scarves. He was appreciative of the brown/black scarf.
I knitted the scarf for him in gratitude for helping to heal Jon. Oncologists are just as overwhelmed as their patients, and their patients’ caregivers, if not more.
Then, I went from room to room with my knitting bag and four scarves in search of caregivers.
Across the hall I found a caregiver who was by her friends’s side. I introduced myself and told them about Jon and that I’m a caregiver, too.
Life as a Cancer Caregiver
The to-do list that has helped me with my husband’s cancer diagnosis, my caregiver duties, and self-care.
Sitting in the infusion chair receiving chemo next to her was the cancer patient — a nurse and yoga instructor. A 10 year breast cancer survivor, she went in for her first preventive colonoscopy and learned she has colon cancer.
I told them the story behind my scarfs. I invited the caregiver to pick any scarf of her choosing. She picked the blue/green scarf. Blue and green are her favorite colors.
She loved it. She placed it around her neck and gave me a hug.
We talked for a while about the power of positivity, meditation, and prayer in healing. We talked about The Notebook and one of our favorite quotes from the movie.
Older Noah tells the young, cynical doctor, who doesn’t see much hope for Allie,
“Science can only do so much, then comes God.”
And we laughed a lot.
Then I went on to another chemo infusion room. I found two caregivers — sisters— by their elderly mother’s side. She has pancreatic cancer.
I introduced myself and told them about the scarves. One of the caregivers exclaimed,
“Finally, something for the caregivers! Nobody remembers us!”
We laughed in solidarity!
But it’s true — caregivers are often not remembered.
I had two pink/purple scarves and a gold yellow scarf. They both picked the pink/purple scarves and wrapped them around their neck. They expressed their gratitude.
We talked about knitting. We talked about faith and prayer. The chatty elderly patient in her nineties was in great spirits. She shared she always prays for others first. We nodded in agreement.
Then, with with my last scarf — the thick, soft, gold yellow scarf — I searched and found another chemo infusion room.
A young caregiver was with an older male patient. I introduced myself. I told her the story behind my last scarf. I asked if she would like it. She nodded.
I gave it to her. She held it with both hands. As her eyes lit up, she smiled, and softly said,
“Oh, thank you. Wow. It’s so pretty.”
The patient was petite and frail. He was quiet. We didn’t engage in conversation. But no words were needed to express gratitude during this difficult time.
I only wished I had more scarves to gift. But I was blessed to have met these patients and their caregivers, and to share the joy that knitting for others gives me.
Knitting for others is healing. Knitting helps to alleviate the enormous weight of caregiving.
While chit-chatting about our common ground — caregiving and our loved ones as they tackle cancer — we also shared the importance of faith, prayer, meditation, positivity, and just being present for each other on our journey as caregivers.
Knit Anywhere, Anytime
After a year and a half of aggressive radiation, chemotherapy, and four major surgeries, Jon’s latest scans show no evidence of cancer. We are grateful. His healing continues.
And my knitting continues. The great thing about knitting is that you can knit just about anywhere and anytime.
I knit while listening to soft and calming music at home. I knit while listening to but not watching mindless reality TV or the depressing news channels. By the end of binge-watching episodes of my favorite series, I’ve knitted many rows or have finished a scarf.
I knit in the car while Jon drives. I knit in the waiting room. I knit during the long days of chemo infusions.
I never imagined, when Mrs. Sachs taught me how to knit on Wednesdays after school, that some day knitting would become a way to help me cope in my duties as a cancer caregiver.
So, learn to knit. You never know when it will come in handy.
Knitting is a very relaxing, meditative, peaceful, and joyful exercise.
A Lifelong Gift
Knitting is a calming art and healing hobby, and a lifelong gift. Any thing that is knitted with patience, care, and love is beautiful with all its imperfections.
Today learning to knit is easier than ever. There are hundreds of knitting videos on YouTube and instructional aids on the web.
Knitting is a stress-buster. Untangle yourself from the stressors in your life and tangle your self in the calming effects of knitting, and knit scarves for fellow caregivers, friends, family, perfect strangers, and yourself.
In May 2020, in the year of the Covid pandemic, my husband Jon was declared in remission and I founded Ultra Care for Cancer Caregivers, a GoFundMe campaign to benefit cancer caregivers. So far, nine cancer caregivers have been recipients of the fund. To donate and to nominate a cancer caregiver, visit https://www.miriamdiazgilbert.com/cancer-caregivers
Miriam Diaz-Gilbert (aka Miriam Gilbert) is a published author, ultrarunner, adjunct professor, and cancer caregiver who loves to knit scarves for others.