Presenting Part II of our tribute
to all the Breast Cancer Survivors and those close to them.
The Breast Cancer Quilt Projects
Part II "Raging Light"
Breast Cancer Quilt Project - United States
Part II "Life Quilt for Breast
Cancer" Project - Canada
Click here if you missed Part I last month
Light" Breast Cancer Quilt Project - United States
Susan spent many hours
contemplating the name she would give this project. No one could explain
the symbolism better than Susan: ""Do not go gentle into that
good night" is one of my all-time favorite poems. Dylan Thomas' image
of stubborn tenacity, never giving in, has always appealed to me. It's
such a powerful admonition against complacency and resignation. I guess
I'd like to hope that I will find a reservoir of that kind of courage to
draw upon as the challenges of life present themselves to me over the years.
The last line of the poem, 'Rage, rage against the dying of the light,'
I find especially haunting. Light symbolizes so many things: strength,
warmth, love, inspiration, divine guidance, life itself. And ironically
it's also evocative of the end of life, the heart of the transcendence
we wish for the dying when we whisper to them as they slip away from us,
'Go towards the light...'"
Susan can't quite recall how the words of the poem got transposed into
"Raging Light," but the more she thought about it, the more it
appealed to her. It can be interpreted in so many different ways: describing
the anger and helplessness of the victims of breast cancer, representing
the out-of-control force raging through their bodies, or alternatively,
symbolizing the healing energy some women visualize to counteract the destructive
impact of the disease. It also connotes the effect Susan hoped to achieve
by making the quilt so bright and brash and loud - to ensure it could not
be ignored. She has received such overwhelmingly positive feedback on the
name, that it has become an integral element in the overall appeal of the
project. "Raging Light" evokes from the viewer or participant
a visceral, emotional response. Each person's reaction will be different,
yet each will be valid.
In the process of
assembling the quilt, Susan would often let the squares that arrived pile
up for days, reluctant to confront someone else's pain or loss. Some were
wonderfully uplifting accounts of survival and triumph. But most were so
heart rending that she could only sit and sob as she read them. Her worst
fear, once she had committed herself to the project, was that she would
become too upset to actually complete it. As it worked out, the challenge
of fitting the "puzzle" of all the squares together, combined
with the completion deadlines she had set for herself hanging over her
head, gave her the emotional distance she required to complete the task.
The overall design evolved as she worked on it. There was no master
layout plan or pattern in mind to guide her. Though it's now hard for her
to believe that she took such a "leap of faith," Susan did not
even view the panel in it's entirety until it was actually finished. She
would work on one section and then roll it up in order to reach the next
area to be worked. She got into such a rush to complete it on time for
"The Race for the Cure" that she never had an opportunity to
unroll it, stand back and see how it was coming together. Keeping this
in mind, it is quite remarkable that the gradation of light to dark from
top to bottom worked so well and was a complete, but very welcome, surprise
when she finally viewed the quilt as a whole.
The most difficult part of the project, emotionally, was making the
dedication label for the back of the quilt. Over the course of several
morning jogs, Susan pondered what she wanted to say. Initially she planned
to measure and mark precise lines and guidemarks so that the inscription
would look almost professional. But as soon as she sat down to actually
do it, pigma pens and fabric in hand, this notion evaporated. The whole
quilt had been an exercise in "winging it," and it seemed inappropriate
and even silly to do it differently now.
Thinking it would take her very little time to complete the label, now
that she had decided to do it freehand, Susan was totally unprepared for
her own reaction. The seemingly simple act of chronicling by hand the name
of her mother and the other women she had loved so much unleashed all the
emotions she had been suppressing for months in order to complete the banner
itself. There are only 80 words in the inscription but it took her over
3 hours to write them. It reads:
This quilt is dedicated in
LOVING MEMORY to
My Aunt Gerry
My Aunt Sue
My Friend Loiuse
and most especially to
MY Mother Vivian
lost to breast cancer in 1990
Until a cure is found, may
this banner serve as a beacon of hope to breast cancer victims everywhere
during their valiant struggles against the darkness - Susan Gray, Walnut
Creek, California, 1996
"Do not go gentle into
that good night...Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Dylan
The most essential objective of the "Raging Light Quilt Triptych"
is to provide an opportunity for breast cancer survivors and family and
friends of those lost to contribute to something that will begin to heal
the ugly scar that has mutilated their lives as a result of this disease.
Susan expands on this purpose: "I've been overwhelmed by how desperately
people need to publicly record names. It's the overpowering desire to proclaim
'I've Been Here,' even on something fairly impermanent as fabric".
These names inscribed on fiery orange, crimson, purple and gold muslin
are now surrounded by thousands of others who have struggled against breast
Because the quilt represents so many women, Susan feels a responsibility
to exhibit it in as many locations as possible. This traveling memorial
will be displayed at a number of venues throughout 1998, including quilt
shows, university conferences, Breast Cancer Fund Raisers, art galleries,
local hospitals, clinics and churches. A series of prayer services in support
of those touched by breast cancer is also planned. These showings and services
aim to reach out to all those affected by breast cancer: caregivers, spouses,
family and friends, as well as those battling the disease themselves. Past
exhibitions and services have made Susan realize all the more the necessity
to expand the scope of "Raging Light" to embrace the wider community
impacted by this disease.
So where does the project go now? Susan has had countless requests from
quilt guilds, cancer support groups, and various other organizations to
have "Raging Light" displayed at fund raisers, quilt shows and
conferences around the U.S. and Canada. Up to now, Susan, being a one-woman
show, in addition to time and funding constraints, has had to restrict
the exhibitions to California. When the "Earth" and "Wind"
Panels are completed, projected for the fall of this year, Susan has aspirations
to take all three quilt panels, along with albums containing the letters
and stories that are associated with the individual squares, on a lecture
and display tour around the country. If she could attract a private or
corporate sponsor interested in working with her to develop the project,
there are numerous possibilities for expansion and many different directions
the project could take. By the end of next year, Susan's current employment
commitments will be fulfilled and this will allow her to devote herself
full time to the "Raging Light" project and it's future goal
of bringing a message of hope, solidarity, courage and empowerment to women
across the nation.
Susan Gray's heroic accomplishment is an outstanding paradigm to women
the world over. She is still accepting squares to be included in the "Earth"
and "Wind" panels. To find out how you or a loved one can be
included please visit the Breast Cancer Fund website at http://www.breastcancerfund.org/raging_light.html
or e-mail Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org
For the sake of women everywhere, we hope and pray to see Susan Gray's
ultimate goal fulfilled.
To find out how you or a loved one
can be included please visit the Breast Cancer Fund website at http://www.breastcancerfund.org/raging_light.html
or e-mail Susan at email@example.com
Quilt for Breast Cancer" Project - Canada
The first panel, "Cut in Prime", made
its premier to the public in October of 1996 at the Diane Farris Art Gallery
in Vancouver, B.C. Diane has been very generous in storing the mammoth
quilt panels when they are not on tour or not being worked on. The second
panel, "Call to Rebirth" was unveiled at the first "World
Conference on Breast Cancer" in July, 1997, held in Kingston, Ontario.
Judy, ecstatic to have come so far in making her original concept a reality
and grateful for the continued support and involvement of so many people,
remarked, "I do think that having major goals is keeping all of us
(cancer survivors) going".
I had a dream about this quilt square and I have
reproduced the square as I remember it from my dream.
The square represents the destruction of my life
as I had known it before the breast cancer diagnosis. The burned edge is
the utter chaos that completely overwhelmed me when I found out that I had
cancer. Plain red fabric divides the square and represents a state of being
in limbo... just trying to get through each day. Identical fabrics woven
into different patterns symbolize how I have been changed yet how I remain
The colours in my square are intense, almost violent,
because I want my square to be beautiful, yet uncomfortable. Having breast
cancer is a violent experience and the beauty and integrity in my life now
was not easily won.
Vancouver, B. C.
Title: Putting the Pieces Back Together
When I began making this square, I was unaware
that I had breast cancer. After running the 10km run for breast cancer in
the fall of 1995, I flet confident that I would not be the 1 in 9 cancer
victim. This block represents that I am now a survivor of breast cancer.
The base of the block was constructed of "bits
and pieces" of my life - selvages, scraps, gifts of fabric from quilting
friends, and purchases from my travels to quilting stores around the world.
All the pieces have been put together to form a
whole body, with the lace holding the pieces together to form a whole body,
with the lace holding the pieces together. The patchwork heart represents
incisions of breast cancer surgeries. It is made with remnants from fabric
from a log cabin quilt and is lumpy like a breast before surgery. The heart
also symbolizes the love which one needs to cope with this disease.
The beads surrounding the heart are continuous
like the road of life that one endures and enjoys. the heart itself was
sewn entirely by hand, using my right side which was affected by breast
cancer. the edges of my square (not visible in the completed quilt) have
been left unfinished and "raw" to represent the healing process,
both literally (the surgical site) and figuratively (emotionally).
Richmond, B. C.
The third and final panel, "Green Canopy", is currently a work-in-progress
and is scheduled to be completed by October, 1999. When finished in its
entirety, the "Life Quilt for Breast Cancer" will measure 12
feet high by 30 feet wide! (Each panel is individually 12 feet by 10 feet.)
At the moment, participation in the way of quilting a square to be included
in the "Life Quilt for Breast Cancer" is, by necessity, limited
to Canadian contributors. For information on hosting a quilting bee in
your community, contact either Jan Muirhead or Anne Massey. Their addresses
can be found in the resources section at the end of this story. There is
always the possibility that this project may expand to include women from
Additionally, Judy and her committee are writing a practical easy-to-use
resource handbook for women in British Columbia to be released this year.
A Canada-wide version may follow after an assessment period. The B.C. handbook
contains a problem-solving guide, directory of practical services and a
guide to practical ways to help someone with breast cancer. Having been
a nurse, Judy recognized how much her friends' emotional and practical
support had helped. She wants to encourage others to do the same for those
in need. Plans for the future include a coffee table book and engagement
calendar displaying some of the contributions to the "Life Quilt for
My square is an interpretation of the "wild
Rose" by Mary Schafer (1971). It is a simple design, easily adapted
to the method I wanted to use in my square for my Aunt Ethel who died of
My poem is hidden in the shape of the rose to be
discovered by those who care enough to look more carefully, just like those
who care enough to know the things in your life which have affected you
the most. Many people in one's life think they know you well but only those
closest are allowed to see the things that hurt you the most.
Title: Say Goodbye
I miss you, Auntie Ethey _ I never got to say goodbye
You were like a "wild" rose - a tomboy
just like me.
You were my favorite aunt when I was little.
And even when I grew up - I love going to visit
But when you got sick - you wouldn't let any of
us see you.
I wanted to share your pain and your fears
And I wanted to say "I love you, Auntie Ethey",
But I never got to say goodbye.
Burnaby, B. C.
Scheduled events for 1998 include a show at the "Quilt Canada"
exhibition to be held at the Asian Center on the University of British
Columbia campus in Vancouver from May 25 to May 31. Following that, the
"Life Quilt for Breast Cancer will tour the Maritime Provinces: Saint
John, New Brunswick from September 18-20, Moncton, New Brunswick from September25-26,
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island from October1-5, Halifax, Nova Scotia
from October 8-19, St. John's, Newfoundland from October 20-30. Except
for the "Quilt Canada" show, all other dates are approximate
at this time. The "Life Quilt for Breast Cancer" will continue
to tour as long as the need and desire exist. Eventually, though not anytime
in the foreseeable future, a permanent home will be found for this magnificent
testament to Courage, Determination, Life and Hope.
For more information write Jan Muirhead at 1115 160A Street, Surrey,
B.C., Canada V4A7G9 or contact her by e-mail at keithm.direct.ca or write
to Anne Massey at 218 15991 Thrift Street, White Rock, B.C., Canada V4B2M9.
Lastly and most importantly, a resounding YES! Judy Reimer, ever indomitable,
is very much alive, a mother to her children, now 10 and 11 years old,
and a friend to her friends. She has miraculously accomplished the Herculean
feat she set for herself just 3 years ago: the transformation of her unique
spirit and determination into a physical form that has evolved to a country
wide communal project. Thank you, Judy, for having the will and the courage
to dare us all to keep Hope Alive.
Other Cancer Support Groups
After we ran the story last month about the
Breast Cancer Quilt projects other self-help groups for cancer victims
have come to our attention. Below is just one of many such groups that
also offer wellness groups centered around stitching.
Self-Help for Women with Breast or Ovarian Cancer was founded in 1976
by a group of women seeking emotional support and guidance to deal with
the crisis of a diagnosis of breast cancer. Over the past 22 years, SHARE
has expanded to offer a broad range of educational, psychological, self-help
and information services for thousands of women, men and children affected
by breast or ovarian cancer. SHARE provides over 100 programs a month including
peer-led support groups, public education, advocacy and wellness programs.
Together with the Bergen County Chapter of the Embroiderers' Guild of
America, Inc., SHARE offers a wellness program centered around stitching.
Survivors are encouraged to rediscover or learn needlework as a creative
method to further self-healing. Simple projects correlating to breast and/or
ovarian cancer and healing are used to teach basic needlework techniques.
The early programs have centered around stitching a pink Breast Cancer
pin or a Teal Ovarian Cancer Awareness ribbon pin using a choice of
fibers and beads from a design donated by Designs by Gloria & Pat,
Inc. Funding for materials has been obtained from Outreach Funds awarded
by The Embroiderers' Guild of America, Inc. in Louisville, KY.
Margot Anderson who works at SHARE as a financial consultant and is
President of the Bergen County Chapter of the EGA is responsible for instituting
this needlework program at SHARE.
SHARE is located at 1501 Broadway, Suite 1720, New York,
NY 10036. Phone: 212 719-0364
Web site: http://www.sharecancersupport.org