I heard whispers of a virus looming half a world away, but my focus was not that. I had bigger fish to fry. Breast cancer. The heart-stopping, pit-of-your-stomach feeling. My life flashing before my eyes and my future life like a movie reel of me not being there for my teen boys or growing old with my sweet husband. After weeks of the unknown, I got the call: breast cancer. Treatable. But the fear never goes away, ever. As it mysteriously appeared once, it could return again. 

It’s February 2020. My body was in pain. My head full of emotions from things I couldn’t control: Coronavirus global pandemic, the continued political circus, BLM movement, racial profiling and my own failed body.  

I held the macramé cord in my hand, the fibers strong and stable as I attempted my first knot of what would become a hanging plant holder. The macramé immediately swept me back to a time at my parents’ house in the early 1980s. I was passing out screwdriver drinks to my parents’ friends as they gathered at various folding card tables to play the card game pinochle. Macramé-hugging plants were hanging in the background of the cigarette smoke-filled room. Was it nostalgia for a bygone era (or a few months ago when I was free to move about maskless?) that drew me so strongly to try my hand at macramé?

Let me step back for a moment. The rush of a million doctor appointments and phone calls — it was a blur — and all the while, trying to keep calm and pretend it was nothing for my two tween boys. After three fear-of-the-unknown biopsies, weeks of uncertainty and quietly celebrating a low-key Christmas without our extended family, the doctor called to say I had breast cancer. Treatable, but cancer all the same.

When the pandemic hit in the midst of my recovery from the first surgery — bilateral mastectomy with the first phase of reconstruction — the silence was deafening. As an extrovert and active woman, the isolation was the worst.  

Thankful friends, family and neighbors would drop off meals, support-filled notes and care packages with plants or a bouquet of beautiful flowers while masked on the porch 6 feet away. I craved contact but was denied. Surrounded by love of my husband and two boys, I still felt so alone and scared.

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A friend texted “Let’s learn this” along with a YouTube link on how to macramé plant hangers. It sounded super cheesy at the time. But what an escape! To get lost in the intricate knots and see the fibrous cord be transformed into elegant yet simple pot hangers. As I continued to twist each knot while counting off how many knots to make, I found a rhythm to the process of macramé. I could get lost in working with my fingers to make the knots. Slowly, I felt a release as I transferred my stress of cancer diagnosis and treatment, pandemic and world turmoil into each knot. My shoulders and stomach felt less tight. As the plant hanger took shape, it started to represent a stable foundation for the potted plant: a connection, growth, care and love. My outlet.  

As other surgeries followed to complete reconstruction with healing time in between procedures, I would lie in bed and watch more videos of different macramé knots to take my mind away from what was happening to my body that I no longer recognized. I found comfort in creating new designs for pot hangers and gifting them to friends and family. So much love and thankfulness twisted in each knot.

Months have passed now and outwardly, I appear fine and mostly, I am. Early detection is key along with a yearly mammogram — remember, about one in eight women get breast cancer. But sometimes, behind my cheerful façade, is turmoil from my cancer experience. And with the pandemic still in our midst, and as global calamities abound, I retreat and I go back to my strong and stable macramé cord that continues to provide a connection, growth, care and love. If an illness strikes, I hope you can find your macramé.