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"Circle of Love," a quilted wall hanging, brightens my front hall.
Itís almost two feet square. In the center is a dark pink heart, with four white dogwood blossoms and several leaves. There is a textured pink button for the bumpy center of each dogwood blossom. Surrounding the heart is a dark green ribbon. Circling the ribbon are quilted dogwood petals and blossoms and hearts.
I was lucky. I happened to find "Circle of Love" while on vacation in Canada.
My family was visiting Stratford, Ontario in the summer of 1999 because of The Stratford Festival, a repertory theater company featuring plays of Shakespeare and other playwrights. When visiting the main theater, I noticed that a museum facing the theater had a quilt exhibit -- "The Quilt: A Celebration of Survivors."I've always loved quilts, in fact I had purchased two Canadian quilts on previous visits to Ontario. So I decided to visit this exhibit.
On entering the museum, I was overwhelmed -- over 100 quilts of all sizes and colors and patterns were hanging all over the walls. Then I started reading the exhibit's brochure.
A woman named Carol Miller organized this exhibit. I had purchased one of my Canadian quilts from Carol's shop outside of Stratford 16 years earlier, so I recognized her name. The brochure described how when Carol had been diagnosed with breast cancer in April 1997, "her thoughts turned to quilting, a craft that had shaped her life. She knew of the companionship of the quilting bee. She knew the laughter, the sharing, the support that women gave each other as they pieced together a story from treasured remnants. She knew this was exactly the sort of thing that women with breast cancer needed to survive."
"And so the idea for an exhibit and auction was born to support survivors and to support the research that helps them to survive. Carol and her Circle of Friends Support Group created the first quilt for this project and solicited donations from across the country. She originally hoped that 35 quilts would be donated. Instead 134 were received."
So I started to wander around the exhibit, looking at the quilts. Then I discovered that there was a story accompanying most of the quilts, stories from survivors of breast cancer and other cancers, stories from friends, relatives and caregivers of cancer survivors, and stories from friends and relatives of victims of cancer.
I've visited this annual exhibit each of the past 3 years and seen a total of 641 donated quilts. Here are some of the many stories I remember.
Stories From and About Survivors
I'll start by sharing some of the survivors' stories.
"This quilt was my challenge for the new Millennium. My friend, Joan, had a much tougher challenge -- she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She now claims to have one breast by God and one breast by Goodyear!"
"Not For His Eyes Only" Donor: Lorraine Lunn, Sarnia, Ontario. 2001 quilt # 200.
"In November 1999, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Each week during the following 9 months of surgeries and treatments, my good friend Judy Millard sent me notes and cards of encouragement. With every card she counted down the days and gave me a beautiful piece of Batik fabric. In September 2000, we made a quilt celebrating the end of my treatments."
"You've Got Mail" Donors: Stacie Littlejohn and Judy Millard, Wallacetown. Ontario. 2001 quilt # 36.
"I met Bernadette four years ago at a dinner party given by Barbara, the creator of this wonderful heart quilt. Bernadette and I had been together a little over a year when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Supporting her during treatment and each successful check-up brought our hearts closer. Now four years later I'm the one with cancer and she is helping me, again bringing our hearts closer. We were married just a month ago."
"Bernadetteís Quilt" Donor: Neil Brower, Toronto, Ontario. Quilter: Barbara Elias. 2000 quilt # 82.
"'To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die.' -- Ecclesiastes, the Preacher.
I was a cancer survivor. As you read these words, I will have fulfilled my time here. I was born only 74 short years ago, such a short time and such a long time. For the last 33 years, I have lived and died with breast cancer. I have lived through all the treatments prescribed over the years: chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. I have bounced back from each recurring bout to love life yet again. I have also died a little each time too. For each breath of life I have been grateful. Against each little death, I have fought the good fight.
My prayer was to live to see my young children grown. Every day thereafter I considered a blessing to be alive. 'A time to die' has come upon me, in some respects much later than I expected, and yet much too soon -- however, it has come and must be accepted.
I came upon this project last year and am happy to be able to contribute to it. I have been busy with the therapy of quilting for some time now. I have known the companionship, laughter, sharing and caring, and the solace of quilting. It brought me moments of calm within, while the storm raged without. I have quilted for many worthy causes and raffles, as well as one for each of my 26 grandchildren. Recently, I decided to make a quilt just for my personal enjoyment.
Upon completion, I realized that it could serve better purpose if I donated it to 'The Quilt.' I hope that my efforts will go in some small way towards stemming the flow of that monstrous tide know as cancer. As for myself, 'the time of departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, and I have kept my faith.' "
"Hearts and Flowers" Donor: Maria Reimer, Gretna, Manitoba. 2001 quilt # 117.
Stories From Friends, Relatives and Caretakers of Survivors
So many stories have come from those supporting survivors.
"Cancer, breast cancer in particular, has personally been a part of my family's life since I was a young woman. In 1975, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and on July 15th of that year (her birthday), she had a radical mastectomy of one breast only to lose the other just six months later in January 1976. I have watched the torture and pain but also the bravery of my mother as she went through these life threatening and significant changes to her body. I could not help but admire her strength of spirit and faith that now all would be well.
More recently, I had to see my dearest and closet friend, my twin sister (fraternal), go through similar procedures and her fear as a young woman facing the possibility of what our mother had already survived. It was because of my mother's surgeries that she was able to support my sister with love and encouragement. We were thankful that my sister's four surgical experiences were much less invasive. She must, of course, be checked regularly and she takes an active role in her care through being aware of any changes in her body to quickly identify any recurring problems.
Personally, I have had no such encounters, for which I feel blessed, but my love and admiration for these two women, so dear to me, personify the word 'Survivor'."
"Roses for Mama" Donor: Anne C. Hunt. Corunna, Ontario. 2000 quilt #35.
"Two children -- a six year old and a nine year old -- in our school have cancer. This bowtie quilt was made by a group of teachers after school as our way of saying thank you to the Cancer Society for all the work that you do for these children."
"For Samantha and Dallyn" Donors: Beausejour Elementary School Teachers. Beausejour, Manitoba. 2000 quilt #77.
From the first year, I remember a wall hanging created by surgeons, They wrote that this was the first time they were stitching using cloth. They were also pleased to participate in a constructive, rather than destructive, activity.
Last year, there were at least two quilts that were donated by groups of doctors and their staff.
"Apple a Day" Donor: The Doctors Three -- Kent Sorsdahl, Randy Gonser and Angus MacIver. Stratford, Ontario. 2000 quilt #126.
"Sutured Snowmen" Donor: Hasegawa Clinic -- Physicians and staff. Brian Hasegawa and Nancy Whitmore. Stratford, Ontario. 2000 quilt #127.
Stories From Friends and Relatives of Victims
There have also been many memorial stories. I remember parents writing in 1999 that the quilt was in their daughterís hope chest. Their daughter didnít live long enough to use it.
Here are some more stories in honor of other cancer victims.
"In 1965, our first close family encounter with cancer occurred when Margaret Emily Charton Hevenor died leaving a husband and six children to find their way without her. Over the years, this disease has crossed our paths numerous times. Margaret's love, patience, and faith are her legacy. We believe she would want us to help in any way that we can. Laurel and Beth, granddaughter, Emily and sister-in-law, Judy."
"Margaretís Legacy" Donor: Judy Hevenor. Quilters: Laurel Vallance, Judy Hevenor, Beth and Emily Sinclair. Woodstock, Ontario.
"This wall hanging is for our sister-in-law and cousin, Marie, who, when she was diagnosed, wanted to do two things -- visit her brother Don in Grande Prairie, Alberta, and to fly south. She was able to go to Alberta but she didn't get to 'fly south'."
"Letís Fly South" Donor: Marilyn Binns. Quilters: Betty Fulton, Shirley Fulton. Stratford, Ontario. 2000 quilt #75.
"We named this quilt for our Mom, Marion McNamara. She died of cancer in October, 2000.
Mom was a remarkable person. Although she had polio as a teenager and lost the use of one arm, she raised seven children on a farm with her husband, Richard, and none of us realized that she had a disability. She was a quiet inspiration to us all.
One of Mom's achievements was a beautiful cross-stitch quilt which won awards at the Stratford and London Fall Fairs. In honour of her memory and to contribute to The Quilt Project, we decided to make another cross-stitch quilt as a family project. Over 30 people worked directly on the quilt. In fact, there was some concern that there wasn't enough quilt for the number of people who wanted to be involved. The volunteers consisted of all her sons and daughters and their spouses, grandchildren, and friends. We have tried to replicate the pattern and colours used by Mom on her prize-winning quilt.
The quilt was started to benefit charity. It benefited all of us as we worked together on it and thought of our Mom with love."
"Quiet Inspiration" Donor: The McNamara Family. Stratford, Ontario. 2001 quilt #265.
Circle of Love
When visiting the exhibit last year, suddenly I saw the quilt I wanted to bring home. With those white dogwood blossoms, "Circle of Love" depicted my parentsí story. My parents always had a white dogwood tree in their backyard. They delighted in the creamy white blossoms each spring and the red berries each fall. Both my parents died of cancer in the 1980's. My husband and I have planted dogwood trees in our yard in memory of my parents. But I thought it would be wonderful to see dogwood blossoms year round.
I gazed at "Circle of Love" for a long time, admiring the lovely fabrics and the exquisite workmanship of the piecing and the quilting. Then I read its story.
"I felt as I worked on my "Circle of Love" quilt that it was an appropriate way of expressing how closely we encircle the memories in our hearts of the loved ones and friends who have fought the battle with cancer. Some live to blossom like the spring flowers in the heart. Some are portrayed by the precious falling petals of the dogwood blossoms. But, always new hope arises."
Donor: Ruby Showers, Woodstock, Ontario. 2000 quilt # 89.
Ruby's story was my story. So I decided to try to make a pre-emptive bid. It was only August, the exhibit was going to be displayed in both Stratford and then Toronto prior to the auction in the middle of November. So I bid as much as I could afford. I finished my vacation, went home and forgot about my bid. After all, so many other people were going to see "Circle of Love." I didn't really think I had a chance of winning it.
But just before Thanksgiving, I got a phone call from a volunteer telling me I had won "Circle of Love". They had a number of quilts to ship outside of Canada, so the volunteer wasn't sure when it would arrive.
"Circle of Love" arrived in the middle of December, in time to be my Christmas present to myself.
Then again, perhaps it was a Christmas present from my parents, yet another part of our Circle of Love.
Copyright 2001 by Kathryn Eike Dudding and The Quilt Project 2000. All Rights Reserved.
Here's another story about The Quilt: A Celebration of Survivors.