Sharing Our Stories: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’ve been “thinking pink” on our Facebook and Instagram feeds. As Carrie pointed out earlier this month, with one in eight women diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes, it’s inevitable that everyone, including the Moda family, is touched by it in some way. Today, two Moda designers share their stories.

First up is Betsy Chutchian.

While there’s never a convenient time for a diagnosis of breast cancer, Betsy’s experience was especially trying. In March, 2002, Betsy bought the quilt shop where she had worked for years, and in May of that year, she received her diagnosis. Then her business partner left. “Before surgery, I had to transfer from a partnership to sole proprietorship,” says Betsy. “It was a rocky start.” She went through two surgeries, chemo, and radiation as a new shop owner. “My customers, friends, and family kept me distracted and were always asking how I was and taking care of me. Having the shop was super-stressful, but also one of the best things I could have done. It kept me active and not focusing on all the uncertainty that comes with a cancer diagnosis.” 

Still by December, when she’d finished chemo and radiation, she was exhausted. “I could barely put one foot in front of the other and decided to sell the shop so I could get well,” she says. The shop’s new owner encouraged Betsy to continue teaching and working in the shop. “That was good for my heart, soul, and spirit.”

Though her diagnosis was frightening—a Stage 3 cancer—she says she never doubted she’d get well. “I kept a positive spirit with everyone,” she says, noting that though she put on a brave front, it was difficult when people would bid her goodbye as though it was the last time they’d see her. “I didn’t want anyone to see me as sick.”

When Betsy returned from the hospital and needed to exercise her arm, she hand-quilted a basket quilt that hangs on her bedroom wall today. For the most part, though, she was too tired for patchwork. But a purchase of some aboriginal fabric helped revive her sewing mojo. “It was so out-of-the-box for me,” she says of the quilt she made that today hangs in her daughter’s office.

Though cancer isn’t something anyone would wish for, in retrospect Betsy can see something positive that’s come of it.

“Having breast cancer, you give up a lot,” she says. “Not just your physical loss, but I also gave up a dream. But out of those decisions I grew as a woman, as a person. I have more strength than I ever thought, and found the courage to try something—proposing books, writing them, meeting people, and trying to design fabric.  You have to find the silver lining and sometimes it’s really hard. But I realized, what have I got to lose? And I went for the things I really wanted. Fabric’s the love of my life and the history I put into my books and fabric is my passion. I’m with the most wonderful company. Good things came to me as a result.”

Betsy’s in her 17th year, post-breast cancer and says that marking the years is a “big deal.” This week she’s at Quilt Market, sharing her new line Nancy’s Needle.

Next let’s hear from Debbie Maddy. Debbie’s known for her fabrics based on indigo dying, and she’s also at Quilt Market this week, sharing her new line Shimo.

“My experience with breast cancer was totally tied to my quilting and designing career. I received my diagnosis while I was teaching in Jonesborough, Tennessee [July 18, 2018]. I was frightened to share with my students or in public. I had fear of my jobs being cancelled. I had heard of a traveling teacher who that happened to. I did share with my family, of course, and the quilt shop owner I was teaching for at the time.

“I kept my secret for quite a long time but finally realized I needed to share and wanted the support and prayers of the people around me. It made it easier when I felt the love, support, and prayers of colleagues and friends. I was able to go on a teaching trip that had been planned for a long time to the beautiful state of Montana.

“When I returned I had my surgery and three weeks later it was time for Quilt Market. I was not able to get my quilts made for Market so three lovely ladies from Moda made them for me. I took a friend to Market with me to help me set up my booth and everything went great. After Market, I did my radiation therapy and was really fatigued, so I did not do any sewing or quilt-related activities until after the new year. Sometimes you just have to rest. If I had to go back in time, I would share my diagnosis much sooner.

“These trials do teach us to enjoy our lives as much as we can and to remember to live for today—not tomorrow.”

I hope you’ll join me in thanking Betsy and Debbie for their willingness to be open about their journeys, and in wishing them continued good health. All the best to you, Betsy and Debbie.

Do you have a story about a breast cancer diagnosis to share? Was quilting a part of your experience? Let us know in the comments.

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24 thoughts on “Sharing Our Stories: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

  1. Thank you for sharing you stories, ladies. My mom recently had a second surgery to remove breast cancer and your sharing your stories renews my faith that she’ll get through this.

  2. Thank you for sharing! Your stories are triumphant ! I have a very similar basket quilt to Betsy’s (one of favorite designers) and I will always remember her story when I use it!

  3. I celebrate both of these ladies not only for what they went through but for sharing their stories. Thank you Betsy and Debbie for showing us what strength, determination and courage looks like in the face of adversity.

  4. Amazing testimonies ladies.Thank you for sharing them. My sister in law is a quilter and breast cancer survivor. After reading your stories I will help to encourage her to do more quilting. She is so gifted but can’t seem to find her mojo. What are some ideas to give or do for her to help celebrate her years being cancer free? Thanks Again

  5. I was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer in the summer of 2014. I did a 20 week drug trial to reduce the size of the tumor. I had surgery, then 20 weeks of chemo, then another surgery since the first didn’t give clean margins. Then 5 weeks of radiation. I spent more than a year on my treatment. My daughter came over early on, and helped me clean and reorganize my sewing room. I wasn’t quilting much by then, but a few months after my whole treatment was done, I found my mojo again and have been sewing and quilting strong ever since. Having my quilting to look forward to really helped me get through the tough times. There were days I would just go sit in my sewing room and look at my things. It was a promise of the future for me.

    1. What a lovely way to describe the hope your sewing room held for you, Charlotte: “a promise of the future.” It sounds like you’re back at it now, and that’s wonderful. Congratulations!

  6. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt story, prayers for healing. My neighbor has triple negative 3 and is going through chemo/radiation right now. So many of my friends, neighbors and family have fought this battle and survived. Honestly I’ve lost count there have been so many but they have all survived. Praying for a cure.

  7. Thank you for sharing. I had to go back and reread that Betsy was treated in 2002! That gives me so much hope for my friends who are early in their recoveries.

  8. In Oct, 2003, I had breast cancer surgery.
    Because cancer was found in my lymph nodes, I had 8 rounds if chemo, and 45 rounds of radiation. I won’t discuss the side affects: after 16 years, I no longer care how bad they were. One positive result of my cancer was I realized I’d always wanted to quilt, and it was time to get with it. Early on, I saw a Drunkards Path quilt in a Love Ring layout. I decided to make it as a homage to my10 year aniversary cancer free. Hand pieced and quilted, this pink beauty received a blue ribbon at the Kansas 100th State Fair, and a 2nd place ribbon at the 1st Kansas City Regional Quilt Festival . It is proudly draped over a quilt rack in my bedroom, is frequently used and greatly loved. It’s my Celebration Of Life.

    1. Kim, it’s a beautiful quilt and one that you should be very proud of. Thank you for sharing your story.

    2. Your quilt sounds amazing and it’s fantastic that you received such recognition for it! What a perfect Celebration of Life!

  9. Thank you for sharing your stories. I am almost at my five year anniversary. A 3-D mammogram found the cancer so early that I refer to it as a “brush with cancer”. A lumpectomy, brachiotherapy radiation and five years on Tamoxifen. I am so thankful for such good medical care and wonderful doctors.

  10. united notions site has had it server certification revoked by my virus protection program……. what gives?

  11. I’m a three time cancer survivor. I was diagnosed at 44. Stage 4 triple 3 B negative, a rare one. On the same day I was fired from a well established quilting notion company. But this diagnosis has allowed me to now own my own quilting business. I treasure each day. Quilting has brought me so much joy and comfort and every day is a blessing.

  12. I am working on recovery from a bilateral mastectomy & a summer of weekly chemo. I am hopeful that I will still have years ahead to quilt. But for now I am still exhausted after a few hours of cutting fabric. Part of my hope comes from the fact that I had breast cancer with chemo & radiation 32 years ago & was fine until this year. If I get another 32 years, I will be 103 so I will take that!!

    1. It sounds like being tired is not at all uncommon at this stage and I hope you get your pep back, soon. Here’s to quilting til you’re 103!

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