Quilt honours those touched by cancer

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Sylvia Priest set about making a quilt of memories after her husband was diagnosed with cancer. Laura Drysdale reports.

When Sylvia Priest and her family were told her husband was in remission from cancer, the timing could not have been much more apt.

Sylvia Priest at the Quilt of Memories launch. Picture Aden Priest

Sylvia Priest at the Quilt of Memories launch. Picture Aden Priest

The news came on the very same day that Sylvia handed over a quilt, in honour of those who have both survived and died from cancer, to the hospital where Tony has been treated.

Sylvia, from Gunness near Scunthorpe, turned to her hobby of quilting to find solace after Tony’s diagnosis in 2015.

“To make sense of this, I turned to what I feel happiest with, and that’s quilting,” she says.

“It was a source of help to me, but I also wanted to do something which would help others too; both those who had loved ones affected by cancer but also those who may be coming to terms with a diagnosis of their own.”

The quilters who stitched together the Quilt of Memories. Picture Robin Hind of Resolution Television

The quilters who stitched together the Quilt of Memories. Picture Robin Hind of Resolution Television

With the help of quilting communities and the East Yorkshire Embroidery Society, Sylvia set about creating a giant patchwork quilt.

“There is a strong quilting community around the UK, so once I put an initial appeal out for help, the responses came thick and fast, and the arrival of quilt blocks was like an avalanche,” she says.

She has used the creation to raise money for Castle Hill Hospital in Cottingham, home to the Queen’s Centre of Oncology and Haematology where Tony has been treated. It was her way of saying thank you.

The design has also raised funds for Bloodwise blood cancer charity, for which Sylvia is an ambassador. In total, over £1,000 has been raised.

More than 200 pairs of hands from all over the world helped to make the quilt, which is made up of 144 blocks and embroidered initials, in honour of those who have survived cancer or in memory of those who have lost their lives to the disease.

It has been named the ‘Quilt of Memories’.

“This quilt has a special place in many people’s hearts,” says Sylvia, who runs the website UK Quilted United.

“It celebrates survival or remembers those lost to cancer.

“The journey began when my husband started his treatment, after his diagnosis with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.

“He received a brutal treatment given gently by a wonderful team...He and I are grateful to them all for keeping him alive.

“I wanted to say thank you in the best way I know – through my patchwork and quilting hobby.

“Every person has given their time and effort with love for a special person in their own life.”

Once finished, the quilt was sent on a tour around the country and in 2017 it was shown at the Festival of Quilts, Europe’s leading patchwork and quilting event.

On August 24, it was officially unveiled at Castle Hill, where it now hangs in the Queen’s Centre for people to “spend a moment to remember and smile with their own memories”.

“It is causing so many smiles because there’s so many happy memories woven into it,” says Sylvia, a director at creative media company Resolution Television.

“It continues to bring happiness to people and it brings joy to me, getting the message out there [raising awareness of blood cancers].”

The official handover, marking the end of the project, was “emotional but happy”, she says, and made more so by the news her husband was in remission.

“What a fabulous day to be given this immense news.”

It wasn’t the only milestone with which the unveiling coincided.

It came one day after the Queen’s Centre, part of Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, celebrated its tenth anniversary of accepting patients.

On August 23, 2008, the £67.2m facility, providing oncology and haematology services for more than one million people across the region, opened its doors.

Tony, now 67, was referred to the centre after being diagnosed with rare blood cancer acute lymphoblastic leukaemia three years ago.

He had visited his GP, aged 63, after experiencing bruising and tiredness.

NHS statistics state around 40 per cent of people aged between 25 and 64 will live for five years or more after their diagnosis.

“It turned our lives upside down,” Sylvia says, of the diagnosis, explaining how it has brought the couple and their children Aden, 31, and Hayley, 35, closer together as a family. “You plan for the worst but hope for the best.”

“The people at Castle Hill are amazing,” she adds. “I can’t say enough of their support.”

The quilting project brought with it many a tear, says Sylvia, both happy and sad as memories were shared.

“It has been a real pleasure to be part of it,” she says. “It has helped me cope with looking after my husband and dealing with the enormity of it. It is a life-threatening disease.”

As well as giving her something positive to focus on throughout Tony’s treatment, it has also enabled her to make contact with people affected by cancer across the globe.

“It’s helped me a lot. It has given me a purpose,” she says. “It has made me feel I am doing something worthwhile and meeting people puts that into perspective as well. Our story is one of thousands out there.”

Third biggest cancer killer in UK

September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month and aims to highlight issues affecting the 240,000 people in the UK living with a blood cancer.

Throughout the month, the Bloodwise charity Twitter account will be taken over by patients, healthcare professionals, research scientists, fundraisers and politicians, who will all share their perspectives.

The takeover hopes to get people talking using the hashtag #MakeBloodCancerVisible.

Bloodwise charity funds research into the cancers and provides support to patients and their loved ones.

Sylvia is a Bloodwise ambassador, part of a community of people affected by blood cancer, who raise awareness by sharing their experiences.

There are more than 100 types of blood cancer and it is the third biggest cancer killer in the UK, with 15,000 lives claimed each year. - more than breast or prostate cancer.

To find out more information or to donate, visit bloodwise.org.uk