Edited December 13, 2009: Today I started on a new knitting project and reflected on how much I love to knit – even if I only make a few items a year. I wrote this almost five years ago and published it in my first zine, the PT Breeder.
A week ago, I took my friend Jen up on her long-standing offer to teach me to knit. She has some misgivings on the ambition of my first project (small needles, tight stitches) but helps me in picking out my yarn and loans me her needles. At my house, after dinner with our two families and a couple glasses of red wine, she casts on 120 stitches and watches as my fingers tremble through their first attempts at an age-old maneuver passed down for centuries.
I have decided to knit my father a chemo cap.
My family has been through this before. â€œSecondary cancerâ€ â€“ or â€œdistant diseaseâ€â€” means he has less of a chance of survival than the first time. His first round with colon cancer a few years ago we got to see what cancer treatment looks like. He was poisoned and irradiated and large pieces were cut out of his body. He lost his hair, he lost weight, he had sores in his mouth and was sick all the time. He suddenly aged. Wheeling him out of surgery on a gurney he looked as if someone had hammered him flat. But, we thought we had a success story. He recovered quickly due to a healthy lifestyle as a long-distance runner and some good Polish prole genes. We thought we had one of those â€œwhat doesnâ€™t kill you makes you strongerâ€ family stories you hear about. And then we find out, a day before Thanksgiving this year, that the cancer has bloomed again in his chest. I realize this will probably be the disease that kills him, sooner or later.
I want him to live. I want him to live to know my children. I want him to live for my sake and his, too; but I am thinking of my children when I imagine him gone from my life. The one grandparent I never knew is a mystery to me whereas the other three are each people I know, I have a history with. I want him to be there for them as they enter kindergarten, play their first soccer games, graduate from high school.
I am powerless to heal him, but I want to believe I can nurture him even here, miles away. I keep at the knitting, doggedly forcing my hands into yet another repetitious task. As I inch along I remember suddenly how we called him â€œCaptain Kiwiâ€ a few years ago in a lighthearted recognition of the fuzzy new hair growing in after they stopped treatment. I smile to myself as I think of him; my fingers and hands gaining a body memory and the stitches flow like water from my fingers. I sit down to knit in the quiet times of my day, a few minutes stolen on the couch, kids asleep, no sound except the hum of the heat, and the knitting needles clicking conversationally with the soft strains of the radio. I think of the Psalm 139: â€œFor you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my motherâ€™s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully madeâ€. With each stitch I am knitting together a healed body; I am holding vigil. The cap will be about 12,000 stitches when I am done. 12,000 stitches, more than the days I lived in his house, and with each one I am envisioning joining his cells into wholeness, combating the poison that even now is flowing through his veins.
My 2 1/2 year old daughter is up from her nap. She climbs up to join me at the kitchen table and watches me. â€œYouâ€™re knitting a hat for Grandpa?â€ she asks. Yes, I say. â€œBecause heâ€™s sickâ€, she says. Then looks in my eyes and asks, â€œIs he feeling better?â€ I am suddenly so sad I canâ€™t answer her. I donâ€™t know if he will ever, in fact, feel much better. All I can do is hope, and pray, and keep my hands busy.