As many of you may have gathered, I was born and raised in the magical, idyllic little town of Stratford, Ontario, Canada. I visited my parents in my childhood home today, as they were determined (as they are every year), to share my birthday, and present me with an enormous chocolate cake. To my mind, there could be no greater gift than to be in a place that I love, with both the people who gave me life, and the people who CONTINUE to give me life (my three girlies, and my husband)... As an added bonus, my brother was also in attendance, who, without a doubt, is the girlies' favourite human being on the face of the earth... To put it mildly, it was a wonderful day for everyone involved.
One of the highlights of my day began innocently enough. My father and I sneaked out of the house for what was supposed to be a very quick trip to the bank. However, as he and I patronize different establishments, we agreed to meet on a specific corner downtown, once we had finished our transactions. As I was standing on the corner waiting for him, my eye was caught by a storefront that I had never ventured into before. The sign read, "The Quilt".
Now, I had heard sketchy details about "The Quilt" phenomenon in Stratford, and several of my mother's friends have contributed to the project, but I had never actually been inside the exhibit before. My recently-struck-up friendships with the incredible Whymommy and Kim immediately leaped to mind, and I walked over and pushed open the front door...
And what an incredible spectacle met my eyes.
Dozen upon dozen of the most exquisite quilts and wall-hangings graced the interior of the gallery. The massive collection was dizzying, and the array of colours and textures rendered me speechless.
I paid my seven dollars admission, and the young woman behind the counter explained The Quilt project to me.
In 1997, Carol Miller, a citizen of Stratford, was diagnosed with breast cancer. In order to help herself deal with her diagnosis and treatment, she turned to quilting for solace. As it says in the souvenir guide that accompanies the exhibition, "...she knew of the companionship of the quilting bee: the laughter, the sharing and the support that women gave each other as they pieced together a story from treasured remnants. She knew that when hands were busy, the mind was freed. She knew this was exactly the sort of thing that women with breast cancer need to survive."
Once she had beaten her own cancer, Ms. Miller's mind turned to using quilting as a way of helping other women come through their own personal battles with the disease.
Initially, The Quilt: A Breast Cancer Support Project was intended to be a one-time event. Ms. Miller had hoped to receive 35 donated quilts to auction off at a function that was held in Stratford in 1999. However, the project had rapidly become such an enormous success, donated quilts kept arriving from all over North America, even long after the deadline had passed. And so, the auction became an annual event. Over the past nine years, the yearly auctions have sold over 2,620 quilts and raised more than $1.37 million dollars.
The money that The Quilt raises is divided between several different organizations, but all of the organizations chosen to receive money focus on providing support for breast cancer patients and their families. As Ms. Miller says, "Treatment without support isn't healing, it's just treatment". Among those organizations are Wellspring: A Lifeline to Cancer Support (which has chapters in Ontario and Alberta), Caring Voices: A Breast Cancer Survivorship Program (an online support program for survivors), Princess Margaret Hospital, and of course, The Canadian Cancer Society.
This year's collection of quilts are absolutely spellbindingly beautiful. If you are a needlework affectionado like myself, or if you would like to participate in a unique fundraising event for one of the most worthwhile causes there is, I urge you to visit The Quilt's website, and become involved. Exhibitions of portions of the enormous quilt collection are happening all across Canada this fall, from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. And even if you cannot get to an exhibit, you are welcome to make a financial contribution, in order to provide some very special women and their families with the care that they need at a critical time in their lives.
Today, I learned that quilts can be Great Comforters on many, many levels. May they continue to bring comfort to many more women in the future.
Sunday, July 8, 2007
"Let no one face breast cancer alone!"