Putting the pieces back together

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CLEVELAND – Women have long known that sewing enhances self-esteem and is a method of escaping the pressures of everyday life.

But can sewing help you face and overcome a life-altering and sometimes fatal disease?

A familiar thread. For many cancer patients and their families, in order to make their lives as normal as possible, they must continue on with everyday life, including participating in hobbies such as sewing.

According to Donna Pierson, vice president, special projects and Internet services for the Home Sewing Association, sewing is something people turn to when a friend or loved one has cancer as a way of helping not only the victim, but also themselves.

The Home Sewing Association is a not-for-profit organization for the home sewing industry.

“I was 36 when I had breast cancer and had sewn all my life,” Pierson said. “I am seven years clean now as the saying goes.

“I think that at the time of my cancer, sewing was not tops on my list of things, but as time went on, I found sewing was my chance, as it always has been, to escape from the drama of cancer as it affects your life.”

“The importance of a hobby or creative pursuit cannot be over-emphasized,” said Robert Reiner, who is on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry at New York University Medical Center.

“If we don’t allow our bodies to rest from the pressures of everyday life, we are placing ourselves at risk for heart disease or other illnesses.

“Creative activities and hobbies – like sewing – can help a person focus on something productive and get away from their worries for a while.”

Touches everyone. Almost everyone knows a friend or loved one who has been touched, directly or indirectly, by cancer.

Phyllis Powell, a member of a quilting group in San Antonio, Texas, finds that sewing is a way to relax as well as a chance to keep the memory of a friend alive.

“One of our very dear friends and quilting group members died of cancer last year,” Powell said. “During her treatment, we used to make her inspirational quilts, which were later displayed at her funeral.

“Sewing helped her live, and now it inspires us to keep going in her memory.”

Ohio healing quilt. Julie Davis, an employee of Husqvarna Viking Sewing Machines in Cleveland drew strength from her friends during her bout with breast cancer.

They, too, got together and, in only one week, made a healing quilt filled with inspirational messages and thoughts for Davis, which she sleeps under still.

“Every sample you sew and share or talk about with friends and fellow sewers is offering the ability to transfer feelings to others,” Davis said in a letter to her fellow employees.

“Sewing is not just about needles and thread. Sewing is a way to convey feelings in a very unique and special way.”

Gave her strength. Davis said that when she was at her worst during her illness, it was the “healing quilt” that gave her strength and helped her through that devastating time.

“I am three years clean now but I believe in the faith and love sewn into my quilt. It strengthened my belief that I was going to be OK, like a great big hug.”

Relaxes patient. Michelle Efron, a northern California resident who was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago, continued to sew throughout her recovery.

“I find sewing relaxing,” Efron said. “It’s very rewarding and uplifting to see the finished product.”

For some breast cancer patients, sewing is an impossible task when trying to fight the disease.

For Ann Hughley, another dedicated sewer from California, her hobby has been put on hold. Hughley said the side effects of chemotherapy have restricted her sewing.

“To be completely honest, something like cancer medicalizes your life. I haven’t had time for anything else,” Hughley said. “But, once I beat this disease, I have plenty of project ideas waiting to be created.”

Holding on to future. For some cancer patients, the prospect of sewing in the future helps keep the focus on things other than the diagnosis.

For lifelong sewer and breast cancer patient, Mary Carr, sewing has been a light at the end of what seems like a dark tunnel.

“I’m chomping at the bit to get back to sewing. Sewing has always given me an outlet to be more creative. I love trying new things,” Carr said.

“This is not going to get me. I don’t have time for cancer, I have a whole bunch of sewing projects lined up.”

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