Writing on the Wall

BMH quilt honors cancer patients and survivors

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The holiday season is a time of hope for many, a time to look at the year past and plan for the future.
It was fitting that a quilt honoring cancer patients, loved ones who died of cancer and cancer survivors was unveiled on Dec. 15 in the lobby of the Blount Memorial Hospital Cancer Center.

Cancer survivors and their friends and family members packed the lobby of the Cancer Center during the reception. Most came because the quilt offers something very personal -- their signatures stitched into its fabric.

Connie Slingluff, director of volunteer services with Blount Memorial Hospital, said the idea for the quilt started about two years ago. Elaine Butcher, chair of the sewing and mending committee, got together with the Blount Memorial Foundation and the hospital marketing department to talk about doing a quilt. They had made a quilt to commemorate the hospital’s 50th anniversary and now wanted to do one to honor cancer patients.

"It was something tangible we could do to honor them, Slingluff said, "something we hoped would have some impact."

The impact came in a very personal way. Close to 400 people signed their names on a small strip. Then a group of eight to 10 embroiders hand stitched over each signature.

"We decided there would be more impact with that with hand embroiders," Slingluff said. "I know we could have just done their names on a list and done it with a machine. But this was more personal. We had eight to 10 different embroiders who worked around the clock."

Names were collected beginning with the dedication of the Blount Memorial Hospital Cancer Center in August.

"We had the quilt squares ready then and the design, but we had to have it ready for expandability because we didn’t know how many names we were going to acquire and how many people were going to be out there," Slingluff said. "We didn’t limit it to just Blount Memorial Hospital patients who actually paid to have treatment. It was open to any cancer survivors and in memory of (cancer patients)."

Slingluff said the quilt has had a tremendous impact. "It’s a serendipitous experience, something good out of something totally unexpected. It’s something you didn’t really plan on and didn’t really know what was going to happen from it," she said of the quilt.

She talked of watching people checking the names on the quilt and becoming emotional. "The teary eyes, the people looking for their name, the name of a loved one or their wife’s name, it’s been an experience," Slingluff said. "Our director will look at the names and tears will well up in her eyes. She knows who has passed away, who is still with us, and who is not."

Helen Murphy of Blount County said her husband was diagnosed with cancer in January of 2004 and died in June of 2006. She came to see the quilt hung in the lobby.

"It just represents a lot of people who have meant a lot to me and a lot of people who have gone through very trying times, and I think it represents them well," Murphy said. "It’s very hard when you first find out (about a cancer diagnosis). When I first found out my husband had cancer, it very hard to accept it, but then you have to go on and do what they tell you to do," she said. "There’s nothing easy about it, and you have to go into it with an open mind."

Cancer survivor J. David Alexander of Friendsville was just thankful to be at the reception. "No. 1, I’m still here, which is nice. I’ve been very blessed in that respect," he said. Alexander pointed to a friend’s name a couple of squares above his.

"He unfortunately passed this year," Alexander said. "We ended up being two places apart on the quilt. I’m really pleased that happened."

Alexander said he wants people to know early detection is the key to prevention. "The biggest thing is I want people to know, especially men, is to not to do what I did and wait as long as I did to have my first colonoscopy," he said. "I was 57 and already had the cancer when I had my colonoscopy."

Metastatic kidney cancer survivor Hollace Berg of Maryville the quilt meant a lot to him. "When I was first diagnosed with stage four Metastatic kidney cancer, they gave me less than a year to live, and that’s been three year and nine weeks now," he said. "It means a lot to me to be on (the quilt), because I never thought I’d be here this long."

Berg said he is a good example that cancer can be beat. "If you’ll have the willpower in yourself and faith in the doctors to do it, there’s a lot of medicine the doctors have to take care of it," he said.

Ruth West, wife of former Maryville mayor Steve West, said it was very emotional to see her name on the quilt. Ruth West said she was very thankful to be alive.

"I was diagnosed with breast cancer in fall of ’04, and I’ve been cancer-free since then and hopefully will continue," she said.

Ruth West said it is very important for women to have mammograms. "That was how I was diagnosed was with my annual mammogram," she said. "It’s so important."

Cancer survivor Bob Mize of Maryville said the quilt "recognizes those who have been cancer patients and are survivors, as well as the memories of those who have gone on to a more comfortable place," Mize said.

Kay Cargile of Maryville said the quilt meant a lot to her because it "is actually celebrating the life of survivors, those battling cancer at this time and those who will be going through it," she said.

Cargile said cancer is curable. "With all the technology, definitely. There’s no reason not to get tested and to go through treatment," she said. "A positive attitude is very important, and the support of family, friends and co-workers means everything," she said.

To hear comments from many who attended the dedication, click on the link attached to this story. A video of some of the cancer patients will let them tell you their impressions in their own words.

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