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The Perfect Chemo Cap

It's useful knowing how to knit a hat. There are all kinds one can make: beanies, berets, and stocking caps with a long bobbing tassel at the very tip. And then, there are chemo hats. These hats are charged with an extra-special mission: to provide warmth, comfort, and coverage for those who are going through chemotherapy, radiation, or brain surgery.

A hat is what I wished I had thought to knit for my mother when the scarves we artfully wrapped slipped off, and the wig we purchased irritated her sensitive scalp. My last resort was a stretchy terry cloth turban, the kind some women pull over their curlers. My fashion conscious mother wore it only when she had visitors. A nicely knit hat in the colors she preferred would have provided her a pleasant way to greet friends without worrying about her exposed head. I wasn't much of a hat knitter back then, so although I knit by her bedside for hours, I never realized that the solution was right there in my hands.

Many years later, living in Minnesota where hats are an essential part of a winter wardrobe, I completed an apprenticeship in cuffs and crown decreases and could easily whip off a respectable hat in evening. By the time I learned about chemo hats, after reading about The Heather Spoll No Hair Day Hat Program on the ChemoCaps website, I was able to give others what my mother needed.

When hearing of someone going through treatments, I offer them a handmade hat. Not everyone wants one, but when they do, I inquire about colors and style. The hats have been welcomed and worn. But I've always felt they were just not good enough. That I could and must do better.

For a long time, I've rooted about for ultimate pattern. One suitable for women like my mother who stopped wearing white after Labor Day, always had a handbag that matched her shoes, and who, when too weak to read a newspaper, mustered her energy to remind me that my shirt should have been ironed.

The perfect chemo hat, with an emphasis on perfect, was what I was hoping to share with you. The prize at the end of my long search. But instead of a pattern, I found something better. A new understanding.

Noodling through blogs and websites, reading other knitters' reviews and chemo hat wearers' testimony, I learned that some folks do like a simple hat in dark colors. Some are thrilled with the cheerful playfulness of a bright Fun Fur cap. Others prefer a knit do-rag. The soul of a chemo hat belongs to wearer. Often, their tastes differ from my own. And why shouldn't they?

There is no one perfect chemo hat pattern. Only lots of excellent choices for the wonderful diversity of hearts and minds, and the vastness and the wealth of their personalities.

Three fine chemo hats were knit while thinking about the perfect one: purple, pink and heather green. They are soft and warm. My neighbor Mary lent the hats I made her last spring to a friend. The friend, with several months of treatment still ahead, will now have a few of her own. I hope she'll like them. It's useful knowing how to knit a hat.

Donate your chemo hats locally to a cancer center, hospice, hospital or nursing home.

Visit these websites for more information:

Pattern Possibilities:

Authored by

Michelle Edwards is the author/illustrator of A KNITTER'S HOME COMPANION and many award-winning children's books including CHICKEN MAN and STINKY STERN FOREVER. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys talking about books in schools throughout the US and beyond. Her newest book, Room for the Baby, will be available from Random House in Fall 2012. Visit Michelle Edwards at her website or on Facebook.
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