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In The Breast I Can Be: Finding Purpose in Breast Cancer

Jo Lee Ferguson

By Jo Lee Ferguson
July 15, 2017 at 3:56 a.m.
Updated July 15, 2017 at 4:04 a.m.

Martha Blazek couldn’t have known how much she would touch my heart when she sat down to crochet my prayer shawl.

It’s stretched across my lap now, as I sit on my couch. It has light brown yarn at the ends and bright strands of red, yellow, blue and orange crisscrossing throughout the rest of the shawl. It’s a soft, warm embrace from a woman who didn’t know who the shawl would go to when she started on it.

Martha, a Pine Tree school nurse, died in early May in a wreck. I was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer a few weeks later.

I keep thinking I must have met her at some point, though. I was in high school band with her son, Chris, and later, I taught her daughter, Carrie (now Carrie Blazek Pevey) clarinet lessons when I was in college. Now, Carrie and I have children who are the same age and attend school together.

A few weeks ago, Carrie contacted me and said she had something she wanted to give me from a local ministry her mom helped start in 2013 – the prayer shawl ministry at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The group has made more than 200 prayer shawls and lap robes since then that they give to people in need of love and support.

Martha was tireless in serving that mission.

“Everywhere she went, she had this little bag with her crochet needles and her yarn,” Carrie told me.

Carrie said that after her mother’s death, her father found a letter she was drafting as part of an application to become her church’s nurse. One of the bullet points she’d written down about her journey to that point was starting the prayer shawl ministry, after she was inspired by a book Carrie had given her years earlier about prayer shawls.

My shawl was among those her family found at Martha’s house after her death. I was touched Carrie wanted to give it to me.

She presented it to me with the written prayer that accompanies each shawl: “Lord, I come before you and request that you may use my hands as an instrument of your healing power – in the spirit and the flesh. I pray the recipient of this shawl will be touched by your love and amazing grace… that they will feel the blessings and prayers that were crocheted into this shawl. May the recipient be comforted, enfolded in warmth, and be touched deep within their heart. May all this be done for your glory, O Lord.”

Carrie said she’s loved hearing stories from people, now, after her mother’s death, about how she had touched people’s lives.

“I think of my mom as my hero, but she’s my mom,” Carrie said. “She wasn’t somebody who was boastful about what she did. She was very quiet and behind the scenes.”

She quietly had an influence on the community, showing how important it is to always have a kind heart and to do what is right.

“It just shows that all the little things you do, do have an impact,” Carrie said.

I can attest to that, though these days, those small things feel big in my life. I think my Stage I breast cancer is a walk in the park compared with what I see other people going through. Still, cancer is a scary word, and I continue to be encouraged by the great love shown to me by so many people, too many to name - friends who embraced me, brought me flowers or fed my family; women who shared their breast cancer stories with me; sweet cards, emails and messages and other acts of love and service; and, now, a beautiful prayer shawl that serves as another perfect example of how we can love each other well. 

Martha Blazek with her husband, Dave, and their grandchildren

My prayer shawl



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