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.