Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane

From the Heart…


If you’ve been following the blog for a few weeks or so it may appear that I do a lot of sewing and apparently little else – the reality is somewhat different, of course. We all have work to do, dinners to make, ironing, shopping and lives to lead. Some care for others, whether it’s elderly parents, children,(our own or others’), darling grandchildren, neighbours or friends. Some of us worry about and/or concerned for others and this can take up most of our waking hours.

I am blonde (a little help is now required from a bottle), fair but not pale, and have 487 moles. I counted them once when I was a teenager thinking that the answer to life, the universe and everything was somehow imprinted on my skin, just like the stars. I no longer have 487 moles as various dermatologists in recent years have regarded my answer-to-everything moles as a risk to my life. Five years ago I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and went through 3 months of surgery, wild mental anguish and zombie-like existence. The offending mole was removed and then about 3″ diameter of extra skin around it just to make sure. Every suspicious mole has been subsequently hacked off – so far 9 to date. This usually means I have a 2-3″ slash cut into the skin at a depth of least 1cm, many stitches, bit of pain and discomfort and then out the other side.

I’ve had every type of skin cancer going- melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, dysplastic cells, I think the only one I’m missing is squamous. I believe the dermatologists regard me as a living research and teaching tool and look forward to my bi-annual visits with relish!

Sewing may been seen as a frivolous hobby, an innocent pastime, a creative outlet, saving of money – whatever. The real reason I went back to sewing, and I’ve only just realised this myself, is skin cancer.

Here’s the connection –

After the melanoma, I was warned about the sun, especially with my skin type. I haven’t actually sunbathed proper for nigh on 30 years as I was more concerned with wrinkles than cancer, but the doctors told me quite emphatically – no skin exposure to the sun. Folks, you have to try and get your heads around this – I live in Ireland! We don’t have sun! But when it shines on the occasional day we like to get out in it, walk around, turn our faces to the sky and smile and feel all warm and content inside. Now this little pleasure was practically denied to me.

Five years ago the over riding fashion was sleeveless – blouses, dresses, I even remember a sleeveless sweater. You may have read in my posts over the months that I don’t do sleeveless – my upper arms are nothing to write home about but now you know the real reason why I cover them up. Sewing my own clothes allowed me to put sleeves in everything – not be dictated to by what was selling in the shops. You may think that being diagnosed with cancer would put fashion way down the list of things to think about – almost the opposite – I had to think very carefully about what I wore. I still wanted to look good, fashionable and be covered up. I also now have some huge scars where there once were moles and to prevent people asking me what happened, I cover them up. Hence my return to sewing and I haven’t looked back since.

As I sit and write this I have two new gashes in either thigh and haven’t slept properly in four nights as I can’t get comfortable in bed. I took the week off work as I knew I would be sore and mostly worried that I’d bump into desk edges and the like. I sewed like a maniac, maybe as distraction. But, I’m coming out the other side now and the stitches will be removed in a week’s time. Two new giant scars to add to all the others. I’ll get the results of the biopsies a week after that. Mind you, I don’t wear shorts any more so my sewing style will not have to adapt dramatically for these new scars.

When I posted about the first DK top I put up a photo of the back and for the first time in my life I saw the scar of the melanoma site. It’s right in the middle of my back between shoulder blades and I’ve never been able to see it in a mirror. I’m guessing you’re looking at it and saying “Where is it?” but it’s a bit like our own sewing – we know the faults and mistakes while other people just see a wonderful garment.

And it’s funny how some things work out and fit together.
Just a little while ago Thornberry linked to my most recent What Do You Think? post. I was flattered but the post upset one of Thornberry’s readers and then that upset me. The reader was annoyed, I was annoyed that I’d annoyed her. These posts were never intended to insult or hurt and I began to think that it was time to stop blogging – I’d over stepped the mark. For the record, I happen to think that this particular sewer is very talented and looks damn good too.

Then this morning I was just checking Thornberry’s blog to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently offended anyone else when she wrote about covering up in the sun – that got me started on this post. Coincidence or what?

I have never done the “Why me?” thing, or “life’s not fair” – this is just the way it is now.
We look at people and think they have wonderful lives, when really we don’t know them at all. I often wonder do we even really know ourselves? In writing this I have addressed a few truths about myself that I hadn’t realised.

Thanks for reading.  Remember folks, use SPF and cover up!



47 thoughts on “From the Heart…

  1. Wow. Thanks for sharing. So great to hear how you've played with the hand dealt to you by life and how marvellous that sewing has been part of that story.

  2. Thanks for writing this, and I actually walk in your shoes everyday…having my skin cancers also cut out every 6 months (I think my dermatologists gets his holidays at my expense). Covering up is huge for me also, largely thanks to the noughts and crosses board that is cut and stitched on my back!!! Backless dresses are a thing of the past.The only ones I can't conceal are on my face, and neck. Short of wearing a paper bag on my head those scars are there for all to see. Living in Sunny Queensland doesn't help, but I still wear the sleeveless tops due to the heat (sweaty armpits are the not-to-pleasant alternative). The scars can actually join the freckles up in some spots!!! I am well known as the person who wears long sleeved shirts in summer on playground duty (over the top of my sleeveless one), or the one hiding under the very wide brimmed hat.I feel for your poor thighs, and the lack of sleep you are going through. Nothing worse, and it surprises me each and every time just how much our skin pulls from those stitches. My dermie now uses internal stitches, which dissolve after about 8 weeks – leaves a lumpier scar for awhile, but avoids the need to go back and have the stitches out. And I live with Vitamin E oil for weeks on end afterwards. We really must compare scars and war-wounds one day. In the meantime, keep covered up, slop on that sunscreen and stay safe…J

  3. Wow here too! This rings bells as my brother is similar having a body full of moles and several bouts with melanoma. His wife maintains a body map of him and descriptions of every mole and any changes that she goes through on him weekly. Like you he is a survivor, thank heavens! I always think of those many days every week on the gorgeous beaches of Puerto Rico where we live for a few years as children. Then there were the fishing trips in the Gulf, the family picnics on a creek in Lousiana that I will always cherish. Back then, who knew? It was the fifties and you just did these things and enjoyed them. Now later in life the price is paid. I am glad you are on top of this and getting such great medical care. I so understand about sewing being more than just a creative outlet. It has provided me with many a moment "in the zone" while dealing with other business. Thank you so much for sharing this. You are one brave chick!

  4. Thank you Sewingelle. I even fell better for having got it off my chest – blogging as catharsis?

  5. Bio oil is my preferred choice. Thanks Judith, When I'm looking for you I'll search in the shade first – that's where you'll find me

  6. Thanks Bunny I appreciate your story too. My troubles have been traced back to the seventies – we had a couple of heat waves and I was known locally as Lobster girl!

  7. It's an incredible blessing to have an interest that also keeps you sane. Sewing has helped me through many tough spots. I'm thankful. HUGS. Pamper yourself just a little bit more. "Celebrate" with fabric.

  8. I am glad to know that you're coming through this! It does seem amazing when you live in such a cloudy place. Life never is fair. You are obviously someone with talent and bags of positivity. Your sewing is inspiring, and your warm smile makes your blog feel like a cosy, inviting place to stop by and spend a coffee break:-) keeping making lemon aide out of all those lemons!

  9. Like you I am covered in moles (although not so many) and I am a little reluctant to sunbath like I did in my youth. Thankfully I got bored before I ever got to the lobster stage, and being blue-eyed I do burn very easy so just can't do it. I am glad that you have an outlet to distract you a little from what you have been going through, and hope that you get good news following your biopsies in few weeks time.I get very stressed at work, and when I am engrossed in a new sewing project it takes me totally away from my corporate stress. As others have mentioned you have great sewing talent and a wonderful way of blogging about it which is both entertaining and informative – keep it up – all the best x

  10. My husband has major problems with skin cancer. I was extremely worried just about a year ago. My worry exploded in an airport in Utah. He had been given some cream for his head that had a radioactive aspect to it. He went through security in Chicago without an issue, but in Salt Lake, they made a federal case over it. I burst into tears when I watched them take him away. It brought out the feeling of helplessness that I had been feeling for months. Thankfully, he is doing well now. I grew up with a grandmother who constantly was having some new place burned off and always kept herself covered in the sun. She did not die from skin cancer so I did not realize at the time just how deadly it can be. On the other end of the spectrum, my grandfather spent every day of his life in the sun and never knew what protecting his skin was all about. Strange. This was a wonderful post Ruth.

  11. Thanks for this post, Ruth! It led me to read the Thornberry post and comments, and then your other post and comments (which I had somehow missed before). Anyone who responded negatively to your post was reading more into it than what you wrote, and that happens. We all have our blind spots and sensitive subjects and can have strong emotional reactions to perceived criticisms.I have wondered about this very topic myself. I think if you are young and thin and a good sewist with a sense of style, it is *easier* to draw more attention to your reviews, blog, etc. But I also think that Marianna (on your Oct 15th post) has several good points. I know of older and non-thin bloggers who have active and large followings. I think that people hunger for blogs that reflect their own age/body type/aesthetic. I know I do! It is especially important to find positive role models as we age, since we tend to disappear from magazines and the media, which has a very narrow view of style for older women.I am sorry you have to endure these skin surgeries and the constant wariness, but I am so happy that you are on top of this. My mother died of melanoma back when science wasn't so advanced. She was my best friend and an amazing sewist. I still think about her all the time and it's been almost 30 years.Thanks for these thought provoking posts! I hope they don't cause you to stop blogging, because you offer something special and unique to the blogging world. Thank you!

  12. Best wishes for a perfect, quick recovery!I'd never have guessed you'd had so much to contend with. I'd hate it if you felt you needed to give blogging a break because of external pressures or bad feeling as I genuinely look forward to your new posts and often wonder what you'll come up with next! What a bummer though, that on the occasions when you get treated to a rare bit of sun, you're advised to steer clear of it 😦 How do you maintain your sunny disposition?!

  13. I'm glad your post was cathartic for you. I know how it is to finally start writing and all kind of things you didn't realize were there come bounding out and onto the page. I too have multiple moles, probably from spending my first thirty years baking in the Southern California sun. No issues yet, knock on wood. But my last husband passed from Cancer, and I know how horrendous the waiting, the diagnosis and the prognosis can be. Hang in there. As my current husband always tells me when I snivel about things, the pain is better than the alternate… not being here at all. Sending you hugs and healing thoughts!

  14. PS… when I had a couple of biopsies for breast lumps, I had my surgeon try to make them match (one each side) so I could tell people I was an Amazon Warrior Woman. I think you could just say your are the reincarnation of a Celtic Warrior Goddess. And the scars are your proof! :P}}

  15. I love your sharing, Ruth. I have neurodermatitis and am patterned with healed or healing lesions on my arms, legs, shoulders, and face. The white scar tissue seems to go everywhere. When I started blogging I was concerned about how the scars would look – but my anxiety is so eased by all the wonderful friends I've made by doing so. Like you, I cannot be in the sun – so my enjoyment of Florida does not include the beach or fun parks. But I am blessed with a beautiful garden, loving family, and happy life. Thank you, Ruth.

  16. Great, open and honest post. I have been lucky so far as I have fair, freckled, mole skin. So far yearly body scans have been good and only a few precancerous cells removed from my hands. I think your fashion style is very flattering and you and we are so lucky to have you share your talents with us.

  17. I for one love your highly entertaining blog and pictures and think the quality of your seemingly fearless sewing really raises the bar for many of us. I am thinking specifically of your very complex leather skirt, but of course all of your other garments are very impressive. Please don't be discouraged. I didn't interpret your comments as anti the thin, svelte, and young, just an observation about the relative difficulty of getting recognition if you are heavier and/or older, just an unfortunate fact of life. But fortunately in the sewing world I think often we are drawn to body types and styles like our own, so it might be a little easier than the fashion world in general. (I am not implying you are heavier and/or older by the way. Au contraire, you are very youthful and in great shape!) I empathize totally with your skin cancer problems. So far I have been "lucky," and had only basal cell carcinoma, not as scary as melanoma, but I have been left with a big ugly scar right on the tip of my nose, a spot hard to cover with any article of clothing commonly worn in Southern California. Anyway, you are inspiring, so don't be discouraged!

  18. Ok third try lucky with this internet comment ! My heart goes out to you – my husband has had at least 13 BCCs removed and we dread melanoma – his sister has had one and he has the red hair and fair skin. My daughter had back surgery 3 years ago and has a scar that extends down almost her whole back but she has come to love her scar – A sign she is strong and a survivor.So learn to love your scar ! It is an awful feeling when you think you have upset someone but I did not take your post to be offensive but merely an observation that is basically true. I found you post to be very thought provoking .

  19. Hi Ruth,You're right – we simply have no idea about others' lives, and I had no idea you have been battling skin cancer. I'm sure you're terrific sense of humor has carried you far (thank goodness) and you better not quit blogging! You're an amazing woman….. I love the What Do You Think Post.Best wishes, Sarah

  20. I fully intend to Myrna. Thanks for the hugs.

  21. Thanks Karin – I like lemonade a lot

  22. Pauline you're the best.

  23. Sometimes you think you are the only one but I'm actually overwhelmed by the comments posted here and how many people are also going through this. I'm glad to hear your husband is fine now.

  24. Oh Shams you've been round the houses reading all that crap. Thanks for your support.

  25. C'est la vie. Thanks for your positive responses too Marianna

  26. I feel better already Lynda.

  27. Certainly been through the wars anyway!

  28. Well your photos do not show this condition – I always think you look great – and happy too!

  29. Ah thanks Linda that really nice of you. Keep getting checked

  30. I suppose I have been very lucky with the cancer thing as all mine has been on arms, legs and back – not face or neck – little blessings. I hope you are still keeping well now.

  31. Hello Janine, thank you stopping by and taking the time to write such an encouraging comment. I trust your husband is well now and your daughter sounds like a true fighter.

  32. Right back at ya. Sarah

  33. I couldn't imagine that you have a problem like that because you are always funny and smiling. Of course, life isn't that easy sometimes but keep smiling, making clothes and blogging!BIG HUGS..

  34. Hi Ruth… "I have never done the "Why me?" thing, or "life's not fair" – this is just the way it is now." Yup… I can relate! And illness has got me sewing for therapy too…..xox Sally

  35. Sally, you don't need to be sick to sew! Anyway, we're dropping like flies if you know what I mean? And I miss you

  36. Thanks Jun. It's all these lovely people like you who help make it better

  37. Ruth, I missed this somehow! My family is prone to skin cancer, being fair and freckly, and I grew up in the Colorado sunshine. Fortunately no signs yet, though my father, grandfather, and uncle all had skin cancer cells removed, so it may just be a matter of time. I have discovered your blog relatively recently after you started visiting the SG forum, and so pleased I did — I think your style and the way you think and talk about your sewing is very inspirational. Online as well as in life we can't be all things to all people. In my opinion a blog can help you "find your voice," and why should we have to be the way others want us to be?Anyway, I like both your writing and your sewing and hope you keep doing both. And hope your stupid scars stop hurting. I use lanolin all the time to help with my dry/cracking skin, maybe it would be something you like as well?

  38. Elizabeth, thank you. I regard you as one of the most inspirational, innovative and 'nicest' person I've never met.

  39. How lovely! Thank you! Let's do meet if you happen to be in London before February, it would be fun I'm sure.

  40. Hi there Ruth – I've been away for a few days and missed this post (but I did get your comment on my blog post, thanks!). Firstly – THANK YOU for sharing your skin cancer story. It's really important that people realise how serious skin cancers are/can be, and how important it is to care for your skin. I am so glad that you are healing all right and that you successfully had the melanoma removed. I have been lucky so far in that I've had scc's and bcc's removed, but the melanoma have stayed away. My dermatologist is also paranoid, given my parents' melanoma histories, so I hope that anything that looks suspicious will be removed sooner rather than later. My biggest scar is on my upper thigh – where it can only be seen when I'm wearing bathers. Not that it particularly worries me, though! My father has skin lesions removed every couple of months or so.Secondly – I love what you sew! You make wonderful clothes, and it's terrific to read about the construction process and to see the finished result.Thirdly – I am SO sorry that my linking to your interesting and thought-provoking post led to you being upset. I suppose that everyone has their sensitive spots, and you never know what they will react to. Your post was well-considered and thoughtful, and I didn't think that you were anti-anyone, but making observations and asking for responses. I thought that it was great, actually! I think that it was more some of the subsequent comments that triggered issues for my commenter. I for one love the variety that can be found in the sewing blogging community. Please don't let that one event discourage you or make you consider stopping blogging!You have a wonderful, personal style in both your sewing and clothing and in your blogging voice – it inspires and encourages others, and I suspect that you're educating others as well. Thank you.

  41. All strength to you. You are a wonderful writer, crafter and inspiration! Someone doesn't like what you say? – pfffft to them, is what I say. 🙂

  42. Hi Ruth I love your blog and reading about your adventures with fabric – your jacket your completed recently was a real favourite of mine. Thank you for sharing your journey with cancer. My father, who has been outdoors all his life as a farmer, recently had alot of his face cut off due to skin cancer. The surgeons were amazing reconstructing what they could and Dad joked that he had always wanted a nose job to reduce the snoozzer! Luckily it wasn't melanoma which two of his sister's have died of but still very serious. When I asked how it was going about with his 'new' face he just said that it was this or a grave stone and he could cope with that. I have never enjoyed the sun as I take after my mother who gets very sick with any exposure so sofar no problems. Good luck with the recent recovery and don't let the comments of a very few get you down.

  43. Oh no please, no need to apologise at all. It's over. I was probably feeling a bit vulnerable at the time etc. It's really all thanks to you that I faced up to this topic and went 'public' and I can't believe the number of comments and support that it has generated. Keep up the good work yourself, I love seeing the variety of things you make.

  44. Thank you Jill- inner strength that's what we all need.

  45. I was hoping that the new cuts on my thighs would reduce the fat deposits there – a bit like liposuction – but unfortunately not! Always looking for silver linings, like your dad. Thanks for your supportive comment and sharing too.

  46. Aw, now how did I miss this? Thanks for posting it- I hope your results came back with good clear margins! So far I've dodged the bullet with copious applications of astronaut level sunblock, but it's only a matter of time until my biopsies come back with much latin- I totally feel for you.

  47. I'm glad that such a positive result has come from such a medically trying time. So many of us push our sewing aside when negative things start to happen to us, I'm so glad that you embraced yours and that it comforted you. I've admired your sewing for awhile now and now my admiration for you personally has grown. I hope you're feeling better soon.

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