Knit and crochet breasts from artist Melissa Maddonni Haims
I first interviewed Margaret Mills a few years ago when she shared her story with me for Crochet Saved My Life. At the time, we talked a lot about depression and how she had crafted her way through it. She mentioned briefly at the time that the depression followed breast cancer (among other things happening in her life) but we didn’t delve into that at the time. I recently visited again with her for a set of articles in which we covered this topic in more depth.
With breast cancer, of course, women really take a hit in the self-esteem and appearance department. Not everyone has a double mastectomy as I did, but there are adjustments to be made to shape changes, scars and so forth. In my case I chose to not have reconstruction, so one deals with prosthetics and clothes not fitting like they used to. Also, an unusual thing that happened to me with chemo is that my hair grew back, but much thinner than it had been. I read on a forum about halfway through treatment that the type of chemo I was taking sometimes caused permanent hair loss. Not good news! I had thin hair anyway due to an underlying autoimmune disorder, but before chemo I could wear it in a regular style, perm it, whatever. It did grow back, but so thin I’ve had to keep it ultra short. Finally, the medication to suppress hormones ages you, can cause osteoporosis, throws younger women into menopause, etc. Coupled with the fact that the health crisis is over and you lose all that concern and sympathy, it can be a dark place. Welcome to the New Normal. There you are: no cancer, but semi-bald with two pounds of rubber strapped to your chest. Maybe you have compression sleeves for lymphodema (something I’ve dodged, thankfully), and are catapulted into old age with aching joints and wrinkled skin. Now what? For a long time – too long, really – my uniform was black or gray hoodies and blue jeans. Doing my hair, dressing up, putting on makeup seemed like a bad joke.
Once I started to crochet things for my grandkids, however, I began making hats for myself. That was where I began to pull out of the hoodie thing (I still have days). I have a stocking cap pattern I can do practically in my sleep, so I made myself several of those. I also have tried the newsboy cap in crochet, but not successfully yet. What was really fun were snoods; check them out if you haven’t yet! It was natural to branch out from there, add a scarf in a matching color, then try a vest or a shrug or a poncho. I’ve never seen myself as the chic ultra-short-haired type, but crochet helped me to explore and test new looks, play around a bit. There is something about making an item yourself, slowly, stitch-by-stitch, that seems non-threatening and healing. For me there never seemed enough time to process, to grieve. Diagnosis, treatment, recovery … bam, bam, bam. Even when I went to the mastectomy shop to get prosthetics and bras the first time it seemed too soon – too much lace and silk and soft music when the scars were still fresh and my feelings called more for sackcloth and ashes, wailing. Crocheting hats, gloves, scarves, vests for myself has slowed things down and helped me come to terms with this new look (in an ongoing process).