Cancer Patients Are Knitting. Here's Why You Should Care.

"For the first time in weeks, they weren't thinking about cancer."

If you're into knitting shit — hats, scarves, sweaters, socks, what have you — then you've probably gotten lost in a trance-like state, methodically knotting yarn and moving needles. These repetitive motions don't just allow you to produce original garments, they can help you enter a deep meditation. 

Christina Fagan, founder of a line of hand-knit accessories called Shit That I Knit, recognized this underrated effect of knitting, and decided to put it to good use. Starting in October 2016, for every hat sold, the Boston-based company, in partnership with the Allyson Whitney Foundation, will donate knitting materials to young adults undergoing cancer treatments — patients will hopefully benefit from the therapeutic effects of knitting. 

Fagan tells A Plus she was inspired to partner with the Allyson Whitney Foundation, a non-profit that "empowers and fights for the interests of young adults with rare cancers," after a friend was diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of 25.  "I taught her and her mom and a few friends how to knit, and they all remarked that during the two hour lesson, they didn't think about anything besides knitting," Fagen says. 

"For the first time in weeks, they weren't thinking about cancer."

 "That led me to reaching out to various young adult support programs and I quickly connected with the Allyson Whitney Foundation."

Come October, participating cancer patients will receive a Give-A-Shit Knit Kit that will include materials to complete a knitting project: wool, needles, a pattern (donated by Lion Brand Yarn) , and tote bag to hold it all (donated by Emulsion Printhouse). Video tutorials created by Shit That I Knit will help patients learn techniques, who can then share images of their finished products on social media with the hashtag #GiveAShit. Hopefully this will foster a community of hospital knitters.  

What's more, according to the Shit That I Knit website, the benefits of knitting extend way beyond just getting patients' mind off treatment. Knitting has been proven to reduce cortisol levels and blood pressure, and lower stress and anxiety. It teaches perseverance, increases confidence by "better equipping you to deal with obstacles," it can take the focus off physical and emotional pain, and help you concentrate and be productive while resting. Of course, it can also help "fill long stretches of time." 

" ... knitting has been recommended to help decrease pain, manage depression, increase self-worth, and manage stress."

Fagan adds that knitting can be both a social and solitary activity, but that either forms can be extremely therapeutic for someone undergoing pain and stress. Patients can partake in either method of practice by joining a knitting group in the hospital, or simply pulling up a tutorial on their iPad, alone in a waiting room. 

"When someone joins a knitting group, it opens them up to meeting new people and helps facilitate easy conversation," Fagan tells A Plus. "We hope to organize knitting meet-ups for recipients as the program progresses, as we will be able to teach techniques, connect like-minded people, and talk about the health benefits of knitting as a group. Knitting on your own is also very meditative. The repetitive motions of knitting is very calming and people often find that they can daydream and let their thoughts wander as they knit. They can also try more complex patterns and just focus on one single task, which ends up being a more focused version of meditation."

As the kits will not go out for another month, the direct results of the program remain to be seen, but the satisfaction of being involved with the Allyson Whitney Foundation is already felt by Fagan 

"I would love to be able to bring a few minutes to a few hours of happiness to someone going through the unimaginable. I love to knit because it allows me to calm down and relax, but I also love the end product — holding something in my hands that I have created."

"That feeling of pride and excitement about your finished product is something that I am eager to share with others, and I think that the Allyson Whitney Foundation, and other young adult programs, are a great group to share that feeling with."

As Fagan mentions, aside from the emotional benefits, knitting is a special kind of meditative practice because it actually results in a product a patient can wear and be proud of.  Self-expression through fashion can be especially important in a ward where young adults are made to wear a one-size-fits-all hospital gown.  

"You obviously need to follow directions at first to get the hang of things," says Fagan. "But as you get better, you are able to make up your own patterns, choose colors, and have the opportunity to be a designer. Whether you've designed the finished product yourself or not, you get a sense of pride when you wear something that you actually created with your own hands. That sense of pride fires the 'reward system' in your brain and makes you happier and more creative."

Shit That I Knit is hoping to  broaden their reach and provide as many kits as possible to cancer patients, but this will be dependent on their partnerships with other young adult programs and their sales this coming fall. 

We hope they reach all their distribution goals, and keep spreading the positivity, one stitch at at time.