The Blankets of Hope Cork
As CEO at Cork Cancer Care Centre, I am used to the building bustling with chat. I think that this lockdown has been the hardest of them all – on everybody.
Cork Cancer Care remained open throughout this time. Our holistic therapies had to stop because they are touch therapies, but we do counselling and psychotherapy by phone and online and a huge percentage of ours are face to face. It’s very hard to talk about how you are feeling on a Zoom call.
The pandemic has been tough on everyone, there is nobody that has not been affected by it. Whether you are a man or a woman, a child or an adult – everybody has had a difficult time.
I think that cancer was forgotten last year. Suddenly people found it very hard to get their smear checks, they couldn’t get their breast checks. There were delays in appointments, delays in diagnoses – it was a very scary time. For anyone going through chemotherapy, it has been an extremely scary time. They are really up there in the vulnerable groups and couldn’t leave their homes.
We see a huge amount of women coming to us between the ages of 35 and 45. They are all young women or young Mums with small children. One of my first ladies was Irene Teap and she left a huge impact on me from the first moment I met her.
She was so strong, with two little boys and I remember when she left the very first day, I must have cried for about an hour. When we lost her in 2017 I was devastated. I began to learn how to speak to people without breaking down.
The centre has always acted as a kind of a haven. It was a place where clients could come in and sit down to relax and talk to other people going through cancer. It was a second home for our clients and it was taken away. This refuge that we have created was suddenly not there anymore
I find it so hard, the door buzzes and you say hello to the person coming in and they are in and out. Before they would have a cup of tea and a chat and fill us in on what was going on in their lives – you build up a friendship with people. I find the building very quiet, now.
One thing that has not stopped is knitting! The Blankets of Hope is an initiative that was started when our founder Ann Spillane saw something similar in America.
We started by asking the volunteers at the centre and their families who might have an interest in knitting to knit squares or blankets. The idea was to be able to send someone receiving treatment a blanket to let them know that we were thinking of them, and give them something that would comfort them. We began on January 4, 2014 and to date, we have donated over 25,000 blankets to oncology wards around the country and worldwide.
We have knitters who send blankets to us from all over the world. We have a lady in Glasgow and a lady in Wales who are both in their late eighties and are knitting blankets for cancer patients all the time. We have a lady who is 94 in the south of France who makes the most beautiful crochet blankets and gets her nephew to send them to us.
The blankets take weeks and sometimes months to make, and even though the people who receive them never know who made their blanket, they feel the love that is in those threads. Our clients say to me, ‘Linda, it’s my blankie – it’s in my car, it comes to every treatment. It is my comfort.’
People find us through our Facebook page and will ask us to post their loved one a blanket, and of course, they go to all the oncology wards in Cork, up to St James’ Hospital in Dublin, to the Ronald McDonald House in Dublin. They go to Galway and Kerry and all over the country. And we send about fifteen blankets a week to Europe.
Since the arrival of Covid-19, groups and individuals have been sending their blankets direct to the centre. We sterilise them, put the date on them and then we don’t touch them for six weeks. We pack them and send them once we know that they are safe for those who will receive them.
Imagine all the people who have sat down to knit a blanket or crochet a piece for the sole purpose of comforting someone who is experiencing cancer. It is something that is so beautiful to me.
- Blankets of Hope was a recipient of Tesco Ireland’s Community Fund. Since 2014, more than 20,000 community projects across Ireland have benefited from Community Fund donations – from national charities to grassroots, local community-based groups. Tesco Ireland’s Community Fund has reached €5 million in donations to local communities.
- Find out more about Blankets of Hope at www.corkcancercarecentre.ie