Knit For Life crafts partnership at Swedish/Issaquah

November 20, 2012

By Lauren Lemieux

Volunteers Leslie Albro (left) and Ellen Harbison knit and converse while waiting for members to join the session. By Lauren LeMieux

Tanya Parieaux was taught to knit by her grandmother when she was a little girl. Many years later, the craft would comfort her in an unexpected way.

Knitting helped her get through her battle with breast cancer. She was first diagnosed in 1996 and for a second time in 2009.

“I had a hard time focusing on television and reading books and things, because I just keep thinking I have cancer, I have cancer, I have cancer,” Parieaux said. Knitting “ was something I did where time would pass so quickly.”

It didn’t take Parieaux long to share the comfort she found in knitting with others. In 1997, she began going around the high-dose chemo floor at the University of Washington Medical Center with a big basket of yarn and needles. She offered lessons and materials to anyone who wanted to participate.

In that same year, Knit for Life was born. The nonprofit organization has continued to grow, and currently meets at 14 hospitals and cancer centers in Western Washington offering lessons and free materials.

“Because of the cost of medical care, which I personally was experiencing myself, I wanted it to be free … so that everyone who sits down with us is equal,” Parieaux said.

The newest location is the Swedish/Issaquah hospital.

“Sometimes, the traditional support group isn’t necessarily what works for everyone, and doing something with your hands and being productive and creating something while having people to talk to about your experience and what you’re going through really helps,” Amy Christian, manager of the Swedish Cancer Institute Issaquah and Eastside Oncology, said.

What to know

Knit for Life meets every Monday from 1-3 p.m. in the lobby of Swedish/Issaquah, 751 N.E. Blakely Drive.

For Cecilia Canada, an active member with Knit for Life, the program gave her an opportunity to learn to knit, a skill she had always wanted to master. More importantly, it offered her a community of support while she was going through treatment.

“I wouldn’t have been able to even receive that [support] from my family. Of course, your family loves you and they’re there, but it takes someone who has gone through either what you’ve gone through or something similar to be able to relate to you and give you that encouragement,” Canada said.

Although Canada will have been breast cancer-free for 10 years in March, she still attends the group weekly to provide that same sense of support that she received to others.

“After becoming a part of Knit for Life, I feel like we are all kind of knitted together,” Canada said. “I just believe that it will be a part of my life forever. I can’t imagine not coming, and I look forward to it every week.”

As Leslie Albro, Knit for Life volunteer, knitted a blue dress for her 18-month-old granddaughter, she spoke of the sense of community and hope that is built out of Knit for Life. She has been volunteering for the program for nearly four years and referred to herself as “one of the newer volunteers.” Albro, like Canada, said she finds it rewarding to be able to support others through the difficult process of various cancer treatments.

Often, patients “schedule to come to their appointments on days that we’re here,” Albro said.

Parieaux said she hopes to see participation at Swedish/Issaquah increase. According to Christian, it often takes a little while for programs to gather a following.

“At our First Hill Campus, we have a large gathering of knitters and they fill up our lobby regularly, and so that’s what we’re hoping for out here,” she said.

Lauren Lemieux is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at

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