When Josephine Kelly was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, she decided to turn a negative into a positive and do something for kids and their families who were “doing it way tougher” than her. Josephine set herself a goal to donate 200 quilts in 2016 to the Very Snuggly Quilts program, with the help of her friends and by running quilt making workshops. Today she makes her last delivery for the year to the Royal Children’s Hospital, and will exceed her goal as she hands over her 220th quilt to a family in crisis.
Meet Josephine. We love her.
I love the saying ‘When life throws you scraps, make a quilt’…. so, that’s exactly what I did.
I’ve started to write this post a few times but found it quite difficult as it brought back so many raw emotions that I thought I’d dealt with. But after some thought, chatting with those around me, and finding myself part of an awesome tribe, here is my quilty story.
Hearing the words “you have cancer” was something I didn’t expect at the age of 40, but as we all know cancer has no boundaries. It doesn’t care how old you are, if you’re male or female, or the colour of your skin. Cancer does not discriminate.
Back in February 2015 I was diagnosed with a Grade 2 breast cancer. Being diagnosed turned our little world upside down initially and telling the kids was one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had to have. But they were also where I got my strength and determination to fight and fight bloody hard. I didn’t want to let them down.
Driving back from the hospital after a day of testing, pokes and prods, I remember saying to my amazing husband Dave, “we need to turn this sucker into a positive”. I needed to ensure all my energy was focused onto something positive. I just didn’t know what the ‘something’ was going to be right then. What I did know was positive energy was going to be important for the kids, Dave, my mum and dad, brothers and friends who were going to support us and join me on this crazy ride.
So, I’m a lover of fabric and lover of quilts and the rest, as they say, is history.
My sewing machine and I became (and still are) the best of friends. The process of making a quilt – from the planning, pattern and fabric selection, to the actual sewing of quilt top -took me to my happy place. A place where I could be lost in creativity. A place where there were no worries and concerns. A place that was safe. A place that soon become my everyday activity. Oh, and still is…just ask the family about our kitchen table! Even on dark days when I was too sick to lift my head off the pillow, I still turned on my sewing machine. Why? It was as simple as this: it just made me feel better.
The repetition of sewing seams together and matching points was what got me through my treatment. I would turn up to my 5 hour chemo sessions with a bag full of fabric, needle and thread, pattern books and EEP. It didn’t matter that some days I never stitched a stitch – I knew my favourite things were in the bag to look at, to reshuffle colours and to stroke. What is it with stroking fabric and the warm fuzzy feeling you get inside?!
The quilts I make today are donated to The Very Snuggly Quilt Program, who distribute approximately 200 quilts per month to the patients at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. I am also very fortunate to be part the delivery team that visits and gifts the quilts to the kids who are doing it tough. Just recently I delivered a quilt to a little boy who was around 4 years old. His mum burst into tears when she realised this was for him to keep. He lifted his head and gave me a little cheeky smile…. at that the mum said “Thank you so very much, this is the first time in two weeks he has smiled, I can’t thank you enough”. And that is the positive in my diagnosis.
There is something to be said for the therapeutic nature of making a quilt, whether for you or as a gift. The repetition… it soothes the mind, it’s a safe place and the outcome is predictable (in most cases!). It was my mediation and mindfulness activity.
I think the conclusion of a study done in the UK in 2011 says it all:
“The findings illustrate how creative hobbies such as quilting can be a meaningful vehicle for enhancing wellbeing”*
…and that’s exactly what quilting did for me: helped and improved my wellbeing.
You can read more about the Very Snuggly Quilts program here.
*Emily Burt and Jacqueline Atkinson, 2011 The relationship between quilting and wellbeing. Journal of Public Health 10.1093