Patchwork – a metaphor for life with Metastatic Cancer?

Sophie's quilt 17 Mar 2013

Just in case you haven’t noticed I have become somewhat obsessed with patchwork quilts recently.  I have spent loadsa money on fabrics and even bought a new sewing machine, though that was more of a necessity as my old one had stopped working and I actually can’t find it any more.  Maybe it got put up in the loft, but I don’t want to try getting up there to look for it because the ladder is almost as rickety as I am.

It came to me today that patchwork is a bit of a metaphor for living with metastatic cancer. As you look around there are lots of lovely scraps of life, but what do you do with them to reform a life? Life will never be the same again, but can something else be formed out of it? When I was 12 I had two operations, six weeks apart. I had been ill and my appendix had been removed, but it was only during the operation that they realised that there was actually nothing wrong with it, and that the source of the problem was something else. As a ruptured appendix can be life threatening, and they had made the incision they had to take it out, just in case it was ever assumed that it had been removed because of the scar and was still there. The problem turned out to be kidney stones, one of which was the size of a 6d piece (in pre-decimal money) and so they were removed six weeks later. Between these two operations my father was in hospital and nearly died because of complications caused by his emphysema. This was all a bit stressful for my mother, and so she began to make a hexagonal patchwork quilt. Included in the quilt were fabrics from clothes that she had made for herself, as well as for my brother and myself. There were also pieces from soft furnishings she had been making (some cushions) and those different fabrics brought back memories for me, even at the advanced age of 12.

Now here I am 40 years later making quilts, and sewing hexagons together and remembering the clothes that I had made with some of the fabrics that I am using. Some of the fabrics are being reused for a second time because I used to make clothes for teddy bears which I sold for Butser Ancient Farm, which is a long-term archaeological experimental site which I used to be involved with. It was a great way of using up the fabrics I had left over, but now I am using what would have been the ‘skirts’ of dresses I never made for patchwork.

Those fabrics are from another time and place where I didn’t even really think about my health or where my life was going. Days when dying was a long way off, and had no focus. But piecing them together is still making them into something of value and use. The form is not the one originally planned, but it still retains the memories and hopes that I had BC (before cancer) except that now the focus is on the present moment. I don’t have the luxury of looking at the long term because that is simply counter-productive. I have to value what I do have.

I am still in the process of making a quilt for my great-niece Sophie and for a while I thought the colours I had selected really wouldn’t work at all, but when I finally came to putting all the pieces together it has actually turned out to be rather striking. I worked from the centre piece of the block which was in a fabric I already had and then I decided to pick out the colours of the flowers in plain and polka dot material. I have inserted a picture of it … not the same as the original material, but something striking, new and different has emerged in its place.


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