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Creative Camaraderie

Hooked on Healing: Creative Camaraderie for Cancer Survivors

If laughter really is the best medicine, then spending time with the ladies of the Bronx Oncology Living Daily (B.O.L.D.) program's crochet group is just what the doctor would order. They call themselves the chain gang, a group of cancer survivors who meet every week to crochet, laugh, and provide each other with friendship and support during what can be trying times.

Evelyn Hone and Dolores Nelson (standing) present a patient with one of the chain gang’s crocheted blankets
Evelyn Hone and Dolores Nelson (standing) present a patient with one of the chain gang’s crocheted blankets
B.O.L.D., spearheaded by Dr. Alyson Moadel, director of the Psychosocial Oncology Program at the Albert Einstein Cancer Center, a joint effort between Einstein and its University Hospital, Montefiore Medical Center, which offers myriad programs that complement the physical healing offered through medicinal cancer therapies. "Our aim is to focus on aspects of patients' emotional and social well-being, to help reduce stress and improve quality of life," explained Dr. Moadel.

She added, "Crochet is one of our longest running programs. It's led by Barbara Gelnick, a breast cancer survivor who has done needle crafts since childhood."

It all began about four years ago, when Ms. Gelnick's pre-class crocheting at a B.O.L.D. meditation workshop caught the attention of other members who were eager to learn the craft. The popular class took off from there.

To those who participate every week, the crochet group has evolved into much more than a class, though. "We've become a sisterhood and an unwavering support network that's always there to lift us up whenever times take a turn for the worse," said Dolores Nelson, a self-proclaimed "diva" survivor – who noted that her hair only grew back more fabulous following her chemotherapy.

The crochet group (from left): Otelia Montedesire, Shirley Saban, Barbara Gelnick, Genoveva Mercado (sitting), Michele Spiritu, Evelyn Hone and Dolores Nelson
The crochet group (from left): Otelia Montedesire, Shirley Saban, Barbara Gelnick, Genoveva Mercado (sitting), Michele Spiritu, Evelyn Hone and Dolores Nelson
She continued, "I was really scared that I wasn't going to survive my surgery, but I did - and I'm so happy about that, because I have a new family. These women are my sisters in life and it's special because we care so much about each other. The quality of my life has improved 100 percent."

Their positive outlook and contagious spirit is further amplified by the philanthropic efforts their crocheting allows them to do, donating the blankets they create solo or together to patients undergoing chemotherapy.

"Through their generous handiwork, the ladies embody how remarkable the human spirit can be and how friendship, community, and charity can turn even the most trying times into something positive," said Dr. Moadel.

"You can go out into the world and do what you want, but you'll never feel as rewarded as you do when you're helping others, remarked Evelyn Hone. "Providing blankets to people going through what many of us have also experienced is so rewarding."

blanket
"We're all familiar with how cold it gets sitting for hours during cancer treatments, so we relish the opportunity to provide both physical and emotional warmth by giving our hand-made gifts," agreed Ms. Gelnick.

Ms. Nelson added, "I tell them, be stimulated, be motivated and keep on living your life! And I remind them that any time they wrap themselves in the blanket, they are wrapping themselves in love from the chain gang."

The group also offers their blankets and other crocheted items for sale, with funds raised donated to B.O.L.D.'s EIF/Revlon Run/Walk team, which in turn helps support a broad range of B.O.L.D. program offerings – including fitness and nutrition courses, dance classes, a monthly drum circle, Reiki healing, creative writing and several crafts classes, including jewelry making and scrap booking.

Those interested in supporting the crochet group's efforts can purchase crocheted items by calling 718.430.2380 or by e-mailing cancersupport@einstein.yu.edu.

Posted on: Wednesday, February 29, 2012