On Cancer

My mother has breast cancer.

I’ve written and deleted that sentence six or seven times by now. There’s no other way to begin this piece.

It was a bit of a shock for us, back in February when we found out. My mother is barely 51. She’s only just dipped into the age bracket where your doctor starts recommending regular mammograms. She works hard to be physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy. It didn’t make any sense.

Often when loved ones are facing an illness or experiencing a loss (and cancer is both, over and over and over again) we jump immediately to “What can I do?” “What can I do to make it better? What can I do to make you happy? What can I do to make things be okay? What?” It’s human nature, and it was the first thing I did. My mother, clearly prepared for this response had an answer: make playlists for when I’m bored during chemotherapy, come with me to appointments, hold my hand.

I did those things (except for the playlists, sorry Mum, but we both know that was busy work anyways…), and many more things. Being a knitter, if you say the words “chemotherapy” to me, my first thought is always going to be  “cap, you need a cap.”

That is a thing I can do. I’ll do that.

I poked around Ravelry until I found the pattern I wanted. Knitty had done a breast cancer awareness mini-issue,  in which there was a hat pattern designed specifically as a chemo cap: Shedir. I went to the yarn shop for hugs and reassurance and some Cascade Ultra Pima in a flattering colour. Blue, obviously. I cast on.

I didn’t know that this would become one of the most difficult things I’ve ever made.

On the surface, it shouldn’t have been. I’ve knit lots of hats for adults and children alike. There weren’t any new techniques for me. It took less than 200 yards of a cotton sport-weight yarn. It’s a well-written pattern that I didn’t plan on altering. Simple.

knit chemotherapy capI knit, frogged, and re-knit the brim three times, trying to get the perfect fit for a head that wasn’t bald yet, but would be. I tried to think instead about how pretty the cable pattern would be or how the colour would compliment her eyes. But all I could think every time I picked it up was: “Cancer. My mother has cancer. I’m making this because she has cancer. My Mum is going to lose her hair during chemotherapy. Which she needs because she has a rare and aggressive cancer. Fuck.”

I’m the kind of knitter who worries about knitting “bad vibes” into a gift, despite being a scientist who doesn’t actually believe in such nonsense. I wondered if maybe I could knit my worry into a hat. I started taking deep breaths whenever I’d start a row, letting my thoughts be whatever they naturally were, but not panicking about them. Honestly, it’s the only way I made it past the brim.

Whenever I worked on it, I thought about what the cap represented. What it meant. And instead of this being a negative thing, it turned out to be very important for me. It slowed me down enough to let me process what was happening on my own time and in my own way.hand knit chemotherapy cap

I ripped back even the smallest error and corrected it. I spent several weeks picking it up and putting it down. Acceptance of the situation – and I mean a true, deep acceptance – took time and more than a few false starts. That’s okay. It’s all a part of the process.*

*ack, I sound like my therapist.

By the time it was finished, I decided the hat was probably more a gift for me than for my Mum, who wears it to humour me, but prefers her collection of peaked hats. Or just going about bald (to be fair, she’s a very attractive bald lady. Seriously. She has, like, a perfect head). But making it let me process everything, as well as feel like I was helping out at a time when there wasn’t much to do.

After weeks and weeks chemotherapy, which she handled well, came surgery. Just a week post-surgery she agreed to model her hat for me.

Knit chemotherapy cap

(she’d probably like me to mention at this point that she’s not actually that large around the middle, but that she still has post-surgery tubing under her shirt. I tried to crop out most of it Mum, I swear!)

Adversity can bring out the worst in people, but it can also bring out the best. It’s certainly brought out the best in her friends and family, all of whom have been incredibly loving and supportive. It brought out the best in my yarn friends who checked in on me, and in my bosses who graciously covered for me so that I could spend a few weeks at home with her. There is still a bit of a road ahead. However. If there ever was a person more capable of beating this than my mother, I’ve yet to meet them. I’m in awe and very proud of her.

“When you’re going through Hell, keep going!”

Good luck with the second half of your journey, Mum.

I love you.


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Post Christmas Round Up: Burberry Inspired Cowl

After my own Burberry Inspired Cowl, my mother not so subtly suggested that she would like one for Christmas. I stuck with the same yarn – Knit Picks Wool of the Andes in Bulky, but a different colourway – one because I thought the blue would suit her better, and two: so we don’t get ours mixed up!

This cowl is a marvel to me, because half way through I just DON’T GET IT. It looks like a lumpy, bunched up bit of nothing. After two pattern repeats, it reminds me of a scrunched napkin and the first time I made one, I almost gave up on it at this point.


Look at that. What on earth is THAT supposed to be?!

Luckily I knit on and after four pattern repeats and a little blocking, it’s clear that this pattern is actually gorgeous. It sits so nicely, either down around the neck or bunched up to cover noses and ears depending on the weather.

Finished well in time for Christmas, gifted, and she loves it (she better, she practically gave me the specifications…)


The photos above really doesn’t do the yarn justice. This would be more accurate:


I think it’s the perfect colour for Mum, because it goes so nicely with her eyes. It’s already gotten a LOT of wear this winter – and now we sort of match!


I feel like that image needs a #AwkwardMotherDaughterSelfies….clearly we need to up our game…

Final Specs:

PatternBurberry Inspired Cowl Neck Scarf by Julianne Smith

YarnKnit Picks Wool of the Andes Superwash Bulky, in Delft Heather. ~ 70 yards.

Needles: 6 mm circulars, knit flat.

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April Snowstorms

Whatever happened to April showers bring May flowers?

My street looks like this:


That is irrefutably snow. K-town got off lightly though compared to south-western Ontario that got more than 15 cm in some places.

I was not impressed and neither was Butterscotch…


I think he really misses going outside.

Anyways moving on from the dismal forecast….

Even in plain old stocking stitch it’s gorgeous and endlessly interesting. I should be throughly frustrated with how slow it’s going but it’s impossible to be mad at such perfect yarn. Gauge is about 36 rows for 10cm (that’s around 9 rows to 1 inch) and each round is approximately 180 stitches. I’m semi-blocking it as I go to get an idea of how it’s turning out. This is because my gauge swatch is a lying piece of scum. It made me work far too many stitches for this section twice. I had to rip back several thousand stitches each time after I put it on a lifeline, tried it on and discovered I had a few inches of extra material. After checking the math countless times I decided the swatch was to blame and decreased 50 stitches less then I thought it absolutely should be. I have no idea why fifty…I guess it seemed drastic enough. It also worked and now it fits nicely.

It is also impossible to photograph but sort of looks like this now. The colour in the above picture is much more accurate but here you get an idea of how big it is.


And to top it all off it is actually ahead of schedule and I seem to have more yarn then I expected seeing as there is still about 1200 yards left. Things couldn’t be going better so I’m nervously anticipating some knitterly disaster that throws the whole thing into turmoil. It may just be luring me into a false sense of security so I think it’s best to keep alert. Paranoia? I think not.

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Picnic at Presqui’l

This is not a very knitting heavy post so if your coming here for the knitting (or to see if I’m freaking out over making my grad dress yet) I’m sorry to disappoint you and you might want to skip this one.

This past Sunday my mother we decided to have a family picnic and bird watching expedition. Our destination was Presqui’l Park which was hosting a water fowl ‘festival’ this weekend for anyone who wanted to come and see the birds in that area of Lake Ontario. I packed my sock project for the car ride. Somehow I didn’t think the dress would enjoy being bounced around in the car or hauled around the muddy, snowy wilderness. Many volunteers organized this event donating their time, scopes (like binoculars but way cooler) and expertise to help the public get a good look at the birds and to tell us what we were looking at.


Without binoculars this is sort of what watching birds looks like. They’re those little black specks in the water. What you don’t see them? Me neither 🙂  With the help of scopes and binoculars we saw ducks of all sorts from common wood ducks to goldeneyes.  I discovered the existence of bufflehead ducks which in my opinion are very very cool creatures. (Besides, who doesn’t love something called a bufflehead?) They are very energetic and delight in whizzing around showing each other up. What else….oh yes there were mute swans to…


Mute swans, I am told, are not native to the area which apparently is why most people I spoke to did not really like them much. Nevertheless I have some respect for any animal that swims so nonchalantly around a semi-frozen lake.  One attempted to land on a patch of floating ice and got quite stuck. It managed to break its way through to open water by bouncing and breaking a path for itself and then it swam away as if it couldn’t have cared less.


Mums scooter did surprisingly well on the slippery ice-covered trails (far better then say…I did)  so we walked through the paths that were open to visitors for a while. The boardwalk was being rebuild so we couldn’t go all the way but we got a decent walk (or ride) in nonetheless.

We decided to take the long scenic route home to which I had no objection because it let me work on my sock for a little while longer whilst pretending to look out the window and be interested in fields, factories and really old  houses. Not that I have anything against fields, factories or houses but driving by them at 80km/h is not generally my cup of tea. We made it to the 4 o clock ferry on time but the line-up was too long and we couldn’t get on. Mum was smart and pulled out a magazine and I just kept knitting around and around on my sock. The rest of my family paced, grumbled, attempted to play video games on a Gameboy with no battery (I’m going to add that one to my list of why I love knitting. Knitting does not run out of batteries at inopportune times. Runs out of yarn maybe, but not batteries.) We were first in line to catch the next one (as we had not moved) so after that it was fairly straight forward getting home.

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