I found this story via Daily Mail and found it to be both interesting and uplifting. An anonymous woman writes how her hobby from the 1970s—knitting—helped get her through an extremely hard time with breast cancer.
I’d been passionate about knitting as a teenager. I made soft toys for my nieces, knitted myself a stream of multicolored tank tops, and kitted my older brothers out in chunky cardigans. But for 30 years, in a rush of working and raising a family, I had completely abandoned the hobby.
But then came the fateful day in March 2007 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
My head hammering in pain, my stomach churning with queasiness, I barely had the stamina to string two words together. And walking further than the front door was a superhuman effort. After being diagnosed, I’d had two operations in quick succession. Now I was in the middle of chemotherapy treatment to mop up any stray cancer cells. But if my physical problems were terrible—the loss of a breast, the loss of every scrap of body hair—my mental anguish was worse. Every waking moment, my brain tormented me with visions of death and dying. How long did I have? What would happen to my daughters if I died? How would my husband, Richard, cope?
But in the midst of this nightmare, completely out of the blue, something took me back. There was one thing that really seemed to help. And it was the most unexpected thing in the world: knitting. As I reached for my knitting needles, I knew dimly that I would gradually begin to feel better. And sure enough, as I touched the ball of soft wool on my lap and felt the cool needles in my hands, my pulse seemed to stop racing. The rhythmic movement of my fingers lulled my brain, and I began to feel at peace. As I watched the jumper grow inch by inch, I felt a quiver of pleasure, and for the first time I dared to hope that I might actually live to wear it.
I knew I needed a project to work on, something to keep me busy. To my surprise and delight, I discovered that the simple process of repeating the same movements over and over again was soothing. And while I was concentrating on the pattern, the terrifying visions of dying faded gradually. While my brain was busy counting stitches, I didn’t have time to think about anything else. Yet, as I fought that battle five years ago, I had absolutely no idea that I had discovered one of the key strategies for survival. Knitting a jumper for myself quite possibly helped save my life.”
Author Laurence Gonzales, who wrote the book Surviving Survival: The Art And Science Of Resilience, has dedicated his career to studying how people survive disease, disaster, and grief. He believes that the simple act of knitting, much like gardening or jigsaw puzzles, can help people survive an ordeal such as cancer.
“In the wake of a severe trauma, it can feel as though something physical and completely out of your control has got hold of you,” he explains. “You can’t think straight. You’re anxious and obsessed with the same terrifying thoughts. You need to get deep into the brain and calm it down.”
This could be why knitting helped her so much. Repetitive actions disable the brain’s “rage pathway”, the area that becomes active when we are under attack, causing adrenaline to soar and your heart to race.
“There’s no doubt that physical, patterned, repetitive, organized, and goal-orientated activities can be therapeutic for people suffering from trauma or grief,” says Gonzales. “When someone suffers a major trauma, such as a cancer diagnosis, they are sucked into a never-ending cycle of rage. But by engaging in a task, they can break the cycle of fear and exhaustion.”
The breast cancer patient adds, “It’s been five years since I was diagnosed. It’s impossible to say whether, without knitting, the chemotherapy would have worked less well, but Gonzales’s research backs up my gut feeling. Knitting forced me to divert my energy away from being angry, to helping my body heal.”
Such a great story. Will the wonders of knitting never cease?