The Traveling Hope Blanket

The idea for the Traveling Hope Blanket Project was conceived through a series of events that started when three wonderful and beautiful souls, in their 30’s with young children, died of lung cancer.  The losses were tragic and upsetting. I was struggling with the balance between ‘we’ve made great strides’ and ‘we still have a long way to go’, but I realized that one thing was for sure – no one had to fight alone. There aren’t words to express the helplessness and loneliness I, and my family, felt as we watched my mom, dad, aunt and two grandparents suffer and die of lung cancer because there wasn’t any support, there wasn’t a lung cancer community. But things have changed, and there is now an incredibly large and caring lung cancer community fighting with, and for, all those affected by the disease.  The losses are definitely painful, but fighting alone is more painful. We now have a ‘tribe’ of survivors and supporters; Comrades in arms, we get it in a way that no one else can who has not lived it.

When I was about to start radiation therapy last February, my friend Matt Ellefson, fellow ‘survivor’ from South Dakota, sent me the t-shirt he had recently worn to his radiation therapy. Matt literally took the shirt of his back and sent it to me MATT IMG_0689to give me a lift, a little laugh, extra strength and positive energy to help get me through my treatments. I was so overcome by emotion because it signified that never again would I, or anyone diagnosed with lung cancer, have to fight alone. Having that support is just as important as research and the medical care we receive. We are better and stronger when we let the strength of others help us.

I only wanted to package up that support and send it to everyone in the ‘tribe’ who needed it. I thought of a book and movie that my kids used to like, Ya-Ya Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  It’s a story about four lifelong high school friends who are about to separate for the summer for the first time. On a shopping trip, the girls find a pair of jeans that fits each of them perfectly and they decide to use these ‘magic’ pants as a way of keeping in touch over the summer, each girl wearing the jeans for a week to see what luck they bring her before sending them on to the next. Though miles apart, through the pants, the four friends still experience life, love and loss together in a summer they will never forget.

Though most of the year we are all miles apart, the strength and support from the lung cancer community is tenacious and powerful. I wanted to create a physical item that could provide energy, love, support and warmth to whoever was in need, and a blanket was appropriate because it represents an enormous virtual hug of love, encouragement and strength wrapped around each person. Each tab on the blanket has a bright and cheery fabric on one side, and the other side is muslin for each person to write an inspirational message so the person who has the blanket can read and feel the words of encouragement.  Hopefully they will be inspired, but they will certainly be reminded, ‘You are not alone!’

In addition to the blanket providing support to each person who receives it, I also want to document where the blanket travels and each persons story.  So much of lung cancer is about statistics, research, cause, etc., but this blanket is about us; real people whose lives have been devastated by lung cancer. Each of our stories is important, and woven together we create a much bigger story – a force to be reckoned with!

This project is the real story of lung cancer.  There are many messages of hope written on the blanket already, but as this blanket travels I hope those who haven’t written a message will. I hope everyone will take a picture with it and email me their thoughts on what the ‘tribe’ means to them and their family, how their lives have changed since finding incredible support and what hope means to them.  I would like to upload the picture and the story as an entry.

quotehopeIn the midst of creating this project I wrote a blog, Because I Knew You and there I talk about what it was like to fight alone for so many years, and now what it means to have an incredibly supportive lung cancer community. The middle of the blanket says, Because I knew you I have been changed for good, around the lung cancer ribbon. Those words are from the song, For Good from the Wicked soundtrack. This theme and those words are true of our ‘tribe’ and the undeniable strength, love and spirit that is woven together and wrapped around each person; it is firm and fierce.

I look forward to sharing the power of this blanket and what it means to those it touches.  Thank you to my cousin Lisa and good friend Janice for making the blanket so it could start in Chicago with my radiation treatment. And a big thanks to my friend Dave for creating this website for me!