Summer 2017. I’d just turned 40, with 4 young children, and a successful career as a lawyer. The last thing I expected to find was that lump. But I did. And it was breast cancer. Within a few days my life went from making the normal summer holiday plans to a nightmare-ish blur of daily hospital appointments, waiting rooms, numerous injections and scans and then, further along, two operations, 6 months of aggressive chemotherapy and a month of radiotherapy. My medical team were fantastic, the NHS at its finest, even throwing in free counselling which helped through the darkest days.
I wasn’t used to sitting in an empty house during my treatment, with only inane daytime TV to keep me company whilst it seemed everyone else was getting on with their lives. I looked into meditation and mindfulness courses to help me through my worries, but conscious that I wasn’t bringing in a full income during my illness, the costs seemed quite prohibitive.
Sally is a good friend, we used to work together and we went through the baby years together. She knew that I enjoyed cross stitching as a young girl. One day, and to my surprise, the first cross stitch arrived in the post. The Grace Wreath. Despite feeling overwhelmingly tired from treatment, I picked up the fabric and started stitching. The ability to follow a pattern and stitch came back quickly to me. I felt calm. The simple task of pulling the thread through the fabric, over and over, was the best form of mindfulness for my busy mind. I could focus on the task in hand, and not the worry. I had a purpose, a project, something positive to create that was unconnected to everything going on around me.
Once I’d finished the Grace Wreath, another surprise delivery from Sally. The Enjoy The Ride Stitch-a-Long. I really enjoyed this concept as it involved a small burst of stitching every month - and then a rest in-between – which I could time in for bouts of fatigue. The release of each new pattern took me through the horrific early days of treatment, and onwards and through to my recovery.
My children were hugely excited by the release of each new SAL pattern, each trying to guess the next fairground feature to appear. This has been a lovely experience for us to share together whilst I haven’t been able to carry out my usual mummy functions. I am now creating, for each of my children, their very own beautiful SAL cross stitch to hang on their bedroom walls.
So, cross stich allows me to sit down and just breathe. It’s something that I can do for myself that I don’t mind the children seeing me do (unlike zoning out on my mobile phone in front of them!) It encourages me to rest, steady my breathing and stay in the moment. It gives me a couple of minutes of calm. That doesn’t happen very often in our house. The bottom line? Cross stitching is good for you. It helps out mental well-being, it is not too difficult to pick up, it isn’t expensive and it doesn’t expect too much of you.