By Vivian Collings
Abbey Retreat Centre’s (ARC) new program is offering a warm embrace and comforting emotional support to people with a cancer diagnosis and the caregivers in their lives.
A Warm Hug from the Highlands program is an initiative launching this fall, which was started by ARC board member, fibre artist, and cancer survivor Shelley van Nood.
Volunteers will be constructing hand-made, flannel-back quilts to give to local and seasonal residents living with cancer.
“One of the missing ingredients for Abbey Retreat Centre was a local, tangible aspect to the centre. Retreats are wonderful, but Shelley showed up with this vision of it being a comfort centre with a focus on peer support. [The program came from] Shelly’s experience with cancer, experience as a support person to people, a quilter, and a vision to create something to provide the support and comfort she longed for,” said ARC co-director Barb Smith-Morrison.
The Abbey Retreat Centre in Algonquin Highlands is a not-for-profit organization for those facing a cancer diagnosis and their supporters “that cares for the body, mind, and spirit of a person while they are living with cancer,” said Smith-Morrison in her article for last week’s County Life.
Shelley van Nood is a Haliburton local who recently overcame cancer. She is an avid quilter and joined the Abbey Retreat Centre board as a director within the past year.
She said that quilts were an important aspect to provide comfort during her cancer experience, much like other cancer patients.
“When we do online programs, we actually see people wrapped in quilts, because if they are too ill to come to an in-person retreat or if the list is too long, they will attend our programs online. They usually say, ‘I’m sorry I’m just so cold,’ and everyone else will completely understand because sometimes cancer treatments can leave you feeling very cold all the time,” said Smith-Morrison.
Sometimes, van Nood still attends Zoom meetings with a quilt wrapped around her.
“They’re warm, and you’re always cold when going through treatment, so you’re always looking for that warm thing. They’re also good as a weighted blanket if you are feeling anxiety,” van Nood said.
In addition to the physical comfort of a fleece-backed quilt, the initiative also aims to provide a blanket of emotional support.
“There’s going to be a tag attached to each quilt, and on that tag will be everybody who helped make that quilt. Each person will write their name on the tag and words of love or encouragement for the recipient,” van Nood said.
The repetitive act of cutting fabric and sewing quilts together was also very soothing to her during her illness.
So far, the experience of volunteers getting together to quilt has been healing for them and an opportunity to learn a new skill.
“It was neat that the two people we had here as volunteers just needed to be with other people and to be doing something meaningful for others,” van Nood said.
Another important aspect to the program will be peer support.
“Our first concentration will be on caregivers, because I had support. My husband was always sitting in the chair beside me looking after me, but who’s looking after him? Caregivers need support too,” van Nood said.
The peer support will provide connection when someone experiencing cancer as a patient or caregiver needs a person to talk to who understands what they are experiencing.
“We want to orient our peer support people to know how to come alongside someone and be a deep listener and then speak about what worked for them,” Smith-Morrison said.
A soft launch of the quilt aspect of the project has already happened with one local person receiving a quilt.
There are three volunteers currently, but ARC would like to extend an invite to anyone who is interested in helping create the quilts, whether it’s helping to sew, iron, or cut fabric. No experience is necessary.
ARC is also accepting fabric donations for the program.
The full launch of the program will be in mid-October to early November, but if you’d like to donate material or become a volunteer for A Warm Hug from the Highlands, please reach out to Abbey Retreat Centre firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 705-754-2966.