Crafting, mindfulness and coping with cancer: Helen’s story

6 minute read time.
Crafting, mindfulness and coping with cancer: Helen’s story

Helen was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in March 2021. Like many people who receive a cancer diagnosis, Helen felt a mixture of emotions including worry, panic and stress. She had lots of questions about cancer and what might happen in the future. To help herself cope with how she was feeling, Helen turned to crafting.

A lifelong knitter and crocheter, Helen talks in her video about how crafting helps to distract and calm her mind. She talks about how crafting and creativity have been incredibly important throughout her experience with cancer. Crafting has also helped Helen to create her legacy for her family and loved ones.

Here on the Online Community, lots of members talk about how art, crafting, creative writing and hobbies can help with how you’re feeling. Members in our Express yourself forum regularly share their hobbies, ideas and experiences. If you are also living with advanced cancer, you may find our Living with incurable cancer – patients only forum to be a helpful place to find support and talk about how you’re feeling.

You can watch Helen’s video below and hear her story in her own voice. Helen’s video has subtitles. You can also read Helen’s story within this blog.

Helen's Story: Coping with Cancer - YouTube

At some stage, we all think about our own death. What will it be like? When will it happen? Will it be fast or slow? Will it be painful? Will I even know if I have died? When I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in March of 2021, all those questions suddenly became a reality for me.

Aside from learning about my illness and the many treatments I was going through, came the harsh reality about my own death and what it would be like for me. I also started to think about what I would like to happen. We are encouraged to think about it, to plan for it so that our wishes can be carried out.

But I found when I started to think about my death, the feelings I experienced were not that pleasant. My heart would race, and I would start to get panicky. I needed to have some method of coping.

I have been a lifelong crafter. From the age of five or six, I sat up on the big sofa as my mother taught me to knit and crochet. This was reinforced by my two grandmothers who I watched knitting Arran jumpers or crocheting place settings. So from an early age, I was knitting gloves, hats, scarves for myself and others.

As a student nurse looking after a sick patient in the quiet of the night, I often knitted or crocheted. On quiet days in the nursing home, when other students had left, I pulled out my sewing machine or my knitting needles. Before I knew it, my friends were back, and I had another project finished.

Crafting passed the hours, but it also made stress seem much less. I had the satisfaction of making an item but I also had engaged in a process that had a calming effect on me both physically and mentally. So it would be no surprise that as I started to work the complexity of my cancer diagnosis, I started to knit and crochet even more.

Working on a project brings me a welcome distraction from wild and turbulent thoughts. Counting stitches takes my mind away from what lies ahead of me to the project in front of me. Crafting gives me a great sense of mindfulness, bringing my wandering thoughts back to me and back to the here and now. It brings me a sense of rhythm and slowness instead of a sense of fear, panic and disordered thinking.

It brings me normality at a time when normality seems impossible.

When it became evident that my early treatments were not working, I applied for early health retirement. My job had been very important to me and shortly after my cancer diagnosis, I had been promoted. In my angry moments, I resent how cancer has taken away my future career prospects. The comradeship I experienced at work, the pride of teamwork and the sense of achievement in finishing important projects.

But as I reflect, these elements are present in my crafting too. The comradeship of meeting other ladies with breast cancer who are crafters as well, crafting together for charity or going to your workshop, the satisfaction of finishing a difficult project and the accomplishment of learning new skills.

I have started a memory box of small items for the grandchildren I may never see: a tiny cardigan, a pair of socks, a hat, a christening blanket in the hopes that the next generation will have something that was made by their grandma they will maybe never know.

Instead of my upcoming life being dull, grey and full of worry, I am able to turn it into a life which is full of colour, pattern and rhythm. When I lose my momentum, I only have to turn to my creative hobbies to steady me again.

Crafting has become a lifeline. It has become the way that I can leave part of my legacy. It has provided me with a great sense of worth that I can make something valued by people who are close to me, that can be used by people who are not as fortunate as me, and most importantly, I can slow down my anxious and sometimes out-of-control thoughts by the steady, rhythmic and mindful action of my hands.

Little did I realise when I sat up on that big sofa as a small child, age five or six, with needles and wool in my hands, that I could barely hold, that I was learning something so important that it would stay with me forever and would become a vital part of my life’s journey, right to the very end.


Finding ways to help yourself feel better can be really important. Many people on the Online Community talk about things like gentle walks, films and gardening alongside crafting as helpful ways to cope with how you feel. If you’re not sure what to do, why not post on the Online Community and ask other members what they find helpful? We have lots of forums where you can talk to other people living with cancer, including our Express Yourself forum.

If you would like to explore other support options you can access from Macmillan, please remember you can contact Macmillan’s Support Line. Our support team are available 7 days a week, 8am-8pm on freephone 0808 808 00 00email or live webchat. Our team are here to support you and answer questions.

We’d like to thank Helen for sharing her story with us here on the Online Community. We hope you found Helen’s story helpful. You’re not alone if you are also feeling worried, scared or have racing thoughts. Please remember there’s lots of support available for you from Macmillan and here on the Online Community.

Read more about creativity and coping with cancer:

Read more from the Digital Storytelling project:

Find further support from forums on the Online Community:

  • What a wonderful post,  it's something that I have nurtured in my grandwains. Crafts are good building blocks for the life ahead. Knitting card makings it's not important as long as the hands are creating. 

  • I have returned to knitting again after 35yrs also. I find the endless waiting on biopsy results, scan results, blood work and the anxiety of pending surgery really hard to cope with so crafting seems to relax me. I highly recommend