Take Time to Take Care

Not many years ago, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. We had no family history and as a collective family, we were stunned. My sister had had a mammogram just a month before that had come back clear. Then, she found the lump on her own during a self-exam and fortunately caught it very early. The treatment exhausted and depleted her physically, but she is healthy and cancer-free today.

Sewing = De-stress

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Once a member of your family is diagnosed with breast cancer, there is an automatic family history that extends to every related female member. For my next check-up, I was put through a barrage of screenings to be extra certain that I was healthy.

 After the tests all came back clear, my doctor took time to ask me about my lifestyle and my levels of stress. At the time, I was working way too much and playing way too little. I mentioned that many of the things that gave me pleasure in life, sewing utmost among them, had slipped away from my day-to-day activities.

I so clearly remember the doctor saying to me: "So all you do is work, and you've completely given up the things like sewing, that relax and give you pleasure?"

When I was in the middle of working so many hours, I couldn't see it. But sitting there in her office, looking at her face as she mirrored my life to me, I could see it very, very clearly. Something had to change.

I started drooling over sewing patterns and fabric, and sewing clothes for myself again that weekend. Within the year, I had changed my life and my job, so that I had the time to do what gave me pleasure. It was one of the most important and healthy steps I have ever taken to take care of myself.

Has sewing played a part in your self-care? I would love to hear if you have had experiences like my own.

Happy (and healthy) stitching!   


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About Amber

Amber Eden is the editor of Stitch and SewDaily.com. She LOVES sewing and editing Stitch and SewDaily.com. She also loves dance, yoga, iced decaf triple espressos, and her two golden retrievers. She divides her time between Boston and New York.

24 thoughts on “Take Time to Take Care

  1. I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME) for several years in my late 20s. Sleeping 12 hours a night (I had previously needed about 6) and doing very little during the day made no difference. Although I kept working I had long periods of sick leave when I was literally fit for nothing. One of the signs I was beginning to recover was that I picked up needle and thread again, the plain backgound of two tapestries that had not been done because they were boring were slowly completed because I simply had to use one stitch and one colour and keep going. I had a few very small projects which would previously have been done in an hour or two, now they took me all day but they got done.

    Now I’m better and sewing (and knitting, crochet, quilting) are all essential to me to help me relax and reduce my stress levels.

  2. I worked for 25 years, many spent in a high-level management position that I loved, but with lots of strife among staff. Two years ago I finally called it a day due to fibromyalgia that I could no longer manage while working. Sewing came to my rescue after all those years of working full-time and raising kids. I now have a home studio where I am starting a business upcycling vintage linens. Thank goodness my mom taught me to sew when I was a kid!

  3. In 2006 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy and the lymph glands removed from that side as well. To my horror when I came home from hospital I discovered I had nothing to wear that didn’t have to go over my head, required that I raise my arm to gain access (which I couldn’t do at that time), was tight to the body or had seams or lace that irritated my sensitive skin.

    Since I had a pattern company and the skills, when I recovered sufficiently, I began working on a design for a ladies night gown to be made of soft flannel or similar fabric with generous armholes for easy access and two styles of openings. The gown featured smocking but would be as just as comfortable without . As I was working on the design I heard about women who had had open heart surgery who also faced similar problems with finding cozy garments and needed a gown with a generous front opening.

    Yes, sewing came to my rescue as a reason to to keep going and designing. I am happy to say I am a survivor and intend to stay that way! http://www.amberlane.ca

  4. I worked for over 40+ years as a RN,raising 3 children and running a household. I would get up 1/2 hour early every morning to work on my daughters outfits and by the end of the week, I would be finished. Sewing provided me time to think and plan. Since I am now disabled, retired, I started my own business, Nonie’s Altered Edge, doing alterations, clothing modification and sewing historical clothing. I am now enjoying my sewing as a vocation and a place to relieve stress while making some income. I taught many of my patients that it is necessary to have a hobby that one can enjoy during life and especially, when one retires. Sewing has provided me that.

  5. Although October is BC awareness month, many more women die of heart disease every year – a fact unknown to me until my own diagnosis of a rare heart condition. The severity of the condition and the accompanying exhaustion of a heart not working right, has forced me to give up a hard charging lifestyle but, on some days, I now have time to sew. It is how I can tell my better days – if I have energy to sit at the machine and sew for a bit, it is a good day.

  6. Sewing returned to my life in a similar fashion. In 2009, after a short illness, my husband was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He died only 3 short days following the diagnosis. Needless to say, I was lost in grief. In my stumbling trance of sadness, I returned to the one thing that I learned from my turbulent teenage years, would help me to survive. That was sewing, both by hand and by machine. I dragged out my old machine, decided I needed to get a new one (and another used but better one!) and I have not stopped sewing since. I also got a new job teaching sewing classes at one of the local fabric stores. Now I share my love for the art and craft of sewing with everyone I can and I take care of myself at the same time. It is a winning combination!

  7. I am so happy you brought up this connection of health and creative outlets. Sewing and drawing have kept me together when stressful events twirled around and within my life. And it still does. I echo the comments here. This month I made 5 little sundresses for a baby girl that became my granddaughter after a very tense week. The hand-sewing especially was such a stress reliever. Mommy and baby are fine and my granddaughter is beautiful. Now she has more sundresses than she needs in all sizes!

  8. Although the emphasis in this was relieving stress by doing something that one loves, such as sewing, I was made aware that stress is something we must or should try to control, in order to protect ourselves from such things as breast cancer.
    I have a form of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and am in clinical remission presently. However, I have two dear friends who are breast cancer survivors, but who have daughters in their 40’s to 50’s. I’ve forwarded the e-mail story to one of those daughters to share with her sisters, since we don’t find stress mentioned as a contributor to some of the diseases such as cancer. I’ve never had it mentioned to me, and I’ve been dealing with my cancer for seven years. Bless you for sharing this information so that I could in turn share it with others.

  9. I too have been saved by my fabrics, thread, paint, and inks. In other words my sewing has brought meaning back into my life.I have had both breats removed,colon parts taken (colosmony), and thyroid removed, along with back surgery that went bad that has crippled me. Like others I worked long hours (hard manual labor), and had no time left or energy.. My husband got me a new Baby lock machine and a serger which got me out of a wheel chair after two years. Now I am able to endure this pain by putting myself into my life saving sewing of quilts,mixed media,etc..
    Thank you Lord for places like Sewdaily

  10. My mother loved to sew. She made clothes for me and my four sisters when we were young, even cotton bloomers. She taught all of us how to sew and passed on to us a love of sewing. I have been making doll clothing since I was seven years old. I love designing Halloween Costumes for my family. We all enjoy the fun and fellowship we share during this season. Sewing keeps me grounded. I am now teaching my seven year old granddaughter the art of sewing. What a wonderful time we are having! Sewing is my passion, thank you Mom.

  11. I had retired from a high stress management job in the automotive industry and decided to upgrade my sewing machine when I was diagnosed with breast cancer 3+ years ago. Having a new high tech toy to play with helped keep my mind off all that was happening. Happy to report still cancer free, and happily sewing away.

  12. I have a similar experience, but in a slightly different manner.
    I was the first person in my family to ever have breast cancer.
    I breezed through 2 surgeries, and lots of radiation, traveling 3-4 hours every day for treatment. Promptly returned to sewing, and altering bridal wear, thinking I could just continue on with life. That was my job!
    Within a year breast cancer was found in breast number 2. Once again another 2 surgeries, and lots of travel and treatment.
    This time, even tho I convinced myself that it is just a bump in the road, I came to realize that the stress is there, the fatigue is there, and life is just not going to continue as normal, no matter how you rationalize it.
    Seeing as we are close to retirement age, my husband, one day, asked why I am pushing myself!!!!!!!!
    He saw the stress, I didn’t. He told me to simply stop taking care of everyone else, and take care of me.
    I now sew for ME, and people special in my life.
    Sewing is a lot more fun now. If I feel stressed, I can walk away, and come back when I feel it.
    Sewing is not a job anymore, but something I enjoy.
    I even embroidered a sweatshirt with a design that says “Sewing is cheaper than therapy”
    Couldn’t have said it better!

  13. I was a typical Type-A personality holding down 1 full-time, and 2 part-time jobs, singing in two professional choirs, attending college p/t, and publishing a quilting newsletter when, after a stressful summer of car accidents, office politics and personal problems, it all came crashing down with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia being the result. It took nearly a year for me to put my life in order, but after adopting a motto of “Do nothing that does not give you joy”, I retired from most of the outside work (that full-time, high-stress secretarial job had to go!), cut back on the singing, and returned to things that I had always enjoyed, including sewing and quilting. Now 12 years later, I have few problems with the fibro-fog due to the fact that I now take time for me. I still sew huge quilts, but on my own schedule without pressure, and once the new sewing room (remodeling a family room) is completed, I’ll have the perfect studio to sew, relax, and share with my family and friends. Once again, life is now good.

  14. Wow! I drive up to the Boston office from New York on Monday mornings, so I just saw all these comments. Thank you all so much for what you have shared. It’s so powerful and makes me feel so connected. xoxoAmber

  15. As a teenager, I sewed a new item of clothing almost every weekend and still found time for school and friends. I picked my first college dormitory based on the fact that it had a sewing room with machine set up and ready for use. After graduation, I got “busy” – career, marriage, kids. Sewing was something I did when I had time to pull out the sewing machine and take over the family dining table which was a rare event. I learned to cross-stitch and crochet projects that could be easily pulled out and put away when not being worked on but fabric and thread were still my first choice. As my children grew up I found time to begin sewing again, concentrating on creating quilts instead of garments.

    In 2011, my 80 year old mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. She already suffered from dementia so she chose not to receive any treatment. I knew that I needed to find a way to deal with the stress of taking care of my Mom, and sewing often feels as important as breathing to me. On January 1, 2012, I started a project I called “365 days of creativity.” My goal was simple – Create something everyday. I have been recording my progress in pictures on my Facebook account. I haven’t posted everyday, but knowing that I had a made a public commitment has helped me find time on a lot more days than I expected. As a result, I have been able to weather the stress and sadness of this year. Mom passed away mid-August and sewing is now part of my healing process. I am currently working on a quilt made from fabric found in her stash. Looking back through the pictures from this year-long process helps me to find joy amidst the sadness. I am thankful that my mother passed on her love of sewing to me.

  16. It all started with a flare-up of Crohn’s Disease six years ago. I was tired all the time and my joints hurt. I spent a lot of time resting and watching TV because anything else was too exhausting. Then when my husband was away for a weekend, I got an idea and I started sewing fabric blocks. No pattern, just my brain. I got creative with the design and a new love affair for sewing began. A few years later, after trying to get pregnant with no success, I quit my job to wait for an adoption to go through. I was emotionally beat up but also needed something to fill my time. I started sewing and crocheting. First for the baby to be in mind and soon to start a crafting business. I sewed and I crocheted, sewed and crocheted, and nothing gave me more joy. I could not create another human but I could create beauty and I started to heal emotionally.

  17. My mother taught me to embroider when I was 5. By that time, she had purchased a Featherweight Singer and made all my clothes during my school years. She also knitted and crocheted, so using a needle and thread (of any kind) was a normal thing to do. I was thrilled when I was finally allowed to use the sewing machine.

    After I married and acquired elderly in-laws, I found quilting. It was no surprise to me that many quilters are caregivers in some capacity, and if we don’t have our own family and loved ones to care for, we adopt others — children, disaster survivors, cancer survivors, returning veterans. Just stand still long enough, and you will find yourself surrounded in a lovingly made quilt to celebrate the occasion.

    All my working years, there was always a project, and now that I don’t work (for a paycheck), there is still a project — actually several. They give my life a reason.

  18. Like so many others, stress – both self-induced and otherwise, was a huge and in fact the only factor in my life several years ago. I was a stay at home mom with a 2 year old and a newborn, a husband who was fighting to keep his job, the possibility of relocating, no family to rely on, insomnia, loneliness, a serious depression and (working) friends I did not want to burden. Too much tossing and turning at night was also causing my husband his own immeasurable stress. Having lost my Dad a couple of years before this to cancer and reading everything in sight on the subject, I knew I could be a prime candidate for getting it. I knew something (anything!) had to change and with every fiber of my being, I made sewing my new found friend. Sewers joke how sewing is “cheaper than therapy” but this was certainly no joke to me. It was my only and absolute truth! Without sewing, I’m pretty sure I would have literally gone crazy! To this day, I incorporate sewing in my everyday life and my now older kids and I annually rummage through all the Halloween costumes I’ve sewn for them with happy enthusiasm. We also occassionally go through their boxes of fabric “charms” that will be soon be their respective “scrappy” “memory” quilts in the near future. My kids have no idea how much sewing for them saved me.

  19. My story is the reverse of yours, I am now a retired Interior Designer, BUT in late Sept 2007 I found my own lump after a mammogram only 1 month before, AND mammograms every year. The lump was in the perimeter of the breast, and NO I did not check regularly, I was just lucky! My mother had a breast cancer in the exact same place back in the 1970″s. After chemo, and surgery, I decided that I would limit the new clients I took on and save more time for myself. Since then, I have begun sewing for the grandchildren, learning to quilt, AND sharing the wealth of sewing experience I have accumulated over the last 62 years. October is a particularly difficult month as I relive those experiences. My sister and her daughter are at more risk now that I have had the cancer. My sewing has led to a feeling of accomplishment, also a way to escape when I felt overwhelmed and last a return to something I used to love to do and hadn’t found the time for in over 30 years.
    Taking time for yourself mentally and physically is definitely on the to do list..


  20. Hi Amber!

    Normally, I don’t have anything to say but have offered many others support while going through their own fear and pain.

    I, too, let work and others scheduling my work, run my life. My life was work, my limited social life was work-that’s often the case when you work healthcare. I also had elderly family members to care for-time slipped away.

    When I finally got around to finding another MD after my old one moved away, I got “the call”. After a routine mamo (and finding my lost films), I was diagnosed with breast Ca. That was in December of 2008. In January of 2009 I had surgery followed by a good course of radiation. My MD said I was a poster child for early detection-if I had waited any longer I would have been dead in 6 months. No lumps, no dimpling, no discharge-just cells.

    My road to recovery was my sewing machine (I wanted to have an exceptional finished quilt with an interesting border). I could take pencil to hand to figure the math and sit and sew-I didn’t work extra and people were respectful or fearful enough not to ask. I still had the family stressors, but I also made “me” time by sewing (and listening to ABBA).

    I am doing ok so far-nervous about MD visits but manage to get through them by contemplating my self reward-I will sew when I get home!

    For those of us who have undergone this, all we can do is to share our appreciation of another day to others. . . .and look forward to machine time!

  21. I just read your comments and it was like my life was mirrored after yours. Not only did my sister have breast cancer with NO family history and two clear mammograms…which she found her lump two weeks later, but then 4 months later, my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer. My life did a complete 180 degree turnaround..I was scared to death and remember late one night driving home and having to pull off on the side of the road crying so hard I couldn’t drive. I kept thinking I could lose both of them and they both were the best friends and family a woman could ever have.
    The next day I signed up for a sewing seminar and made myself go.
    It was such a relief to be away from the stress and worry for that which I could not control. Those two days of sewing with other ladies and sharing our stories and feeling the love and support gave me the courage and the support I needed to handle the care of loved ones at home.
    I’m happy to say that 6 years later, my husband is cancer free and my sister’s cancer has been managed beautifully. We do not take anything for granted and I just puchased a sewing/embroidery machine for my sister and she is very excited about learning how to sew. Thank God for all my sewing buddies..I just love the creativity and the companionship. It is definitely a stress buster!
    Jessie W
    Slidell, La.

  22. Jessie: I am glad to hear that your family is well. I have to say that until I read all these posts, I thought I was the only one whom sewing has helped through a difficult time. It really is therapy! Thanks for taking the time to write your message. –Amber