‘Grannys’ find joy in making hats for cancer patients

Posted: October 29, 2012

Cancer survivor Judy Hamilton shows off one of the hats she made to other members of the Chemo Grannys. Since forming in December, the group has knitted or crocheted about 1,200 hats for cancer patients. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Margie Aronhalt (from left) shows some of the hats she has made to fellow Chemo Grannys Dorothy Morgan and Betsy Burgess. The hats are given to cancer patients at Winchester Medical Center, Blue Ridge Hospice, U.Va. Medical Center in Charlottesville and the John R. Marsh Cancer Center in Hagerstown, Md. The group meets monthly and welcomes new members and donations of money or yarn.
Members of the Chemo Grannys — Chris Davis (from left), Josie Dicks, Sheryl Belford, Margie Aronhalt, Dorothy Morgan, Betsy Burgess, Teresa Miller, Judy Hamilton and Debbie Crowley — meet in a local grocery store coffee shop. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

       Winchester

Christine “Chris” Davis has never had cancer, but she and her friends have made almost 1,200 hats for cancer patients since forming the “Chemo Grannys” in December.

“Everybody’s fingers are just going to town,” the 61-year-old Winchester resident said cheerfully.

A longtime knitter and crocheter, Davis was inspired to start the group after seeing a basket of handmade hats for cancer patients at a yarn shop in Florida.

“I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a neat idea,’” Davis said. “Something just told me I needed to come home and do it here.”

About a dozen women of all ages make up the Chemo Grannys. Some are retired, some have jobs. A few are cancer survivors. The one thing they all have in common is a love of knitting and crocheting.

“Some of us have been known to crochet at a long red light,” Davis joked. “It’s an addiction, it really is.”

Members make the hats in their spare time — a few have told Davis they knit or crochet on their lunch break — then they turn in what they’ve made at a monthly meeting.

“We try to do a variety of sizes and styles,” Davis said.

At the October meeting, members showed up with about a hundred hats — some in Halloween themes, one with yarn pigtails attached, and some in NFL team colors.

“We make hats for men, too,” Davis explained.

The hats are then distributed locally at Winchester Medical Center and Blue Ridge Hospice, and at U.Va. Medical Center in Charlottesville and the John R. Marsh Cancer Center in Hagerstown, Md.

Chemotherapy makes cancer patients lose their hair, so the hats come in handy.

At U.Va. Medical Center, Davis got to meet a hat recipient who was about to start cancer treatment.

“She was just thrilled and asked how much they cost. I said, ‘Oh, no, we’re donating them.’”

Some days, Davis crochets as many as four hats, with each one taking about an hour to complete. Knitting takes longer.

“I like to crochet because it goes faster, and the more hats we make, the more hats we can donate,” Davis said.

The women buy most of their own supplies, but they also accept donations. One club member doesn’t knit or crochet, but she comes to the meetings to see what has been made and makes donations of money or yarn, Davis said.

Recently, Davis used some special yarn that was donated to make a hat that looks like a colorful clown’s wig. She took the hat to WMC’s oncology department, where it was hung on a tree with other hats that patients can chose from.

Each hat costs about $2 to $3 to make, she estimated.

“So yarn is greatly appreciated,” Davis said.

Anyone interested in joining the Chemo Grannys or making a donation may contact Davis at 540-533-0652. The group meets the last Thursday of the month in the coffee shop at the Martin’s food store in the Sunnyside area of Frederick County off U.S. 522 North.

— Contact Cynthia Cather Burton at cburton@winchesterstar.com