Stitching together to bring awareness, empathy about an aggressive cancer

Before he left office, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law the establishment of a permanent day of awareness for Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC), a rare but aggressive disease. This year, IBC Awareness Day will take place in Massachusetts on Tues., Oct. 10. Leading up to the recognition and education event, Stitch House Dorchester will be hosting two knit-along events, where residents will be invited to crochet and knit hats for chemotherapy patients. 

Susan Asci, who once lived in South Boston and now resides in Whitman, is a 23-year survivor of IBC. After completing her treatment, Asci felt that she could help others by establishing support groups and raising money for research. Her most recent project has been collaborating with Stitch House, which is located at 846 Dorchester Ave.

The yarn store will host two events in September to create and collect chemo hats for donation to the Breast Health Center at Tufts Medical Center in Boston in recognition of IBC Awareness Day. The first will take place on Fri., Sept. 15, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.; the second knit-along will occur on Sun., Sept. 24, from 4:30 p.m to 6:30 p.m. 

Participants are going to donate what they make but they also will have an opportunity to ask questions,” said Asci. “We’re going to have our educational brochures there and I’ll be at those events myself. There are a couple of other survivors who may or may not pop in and be available to talk about their experience or to answer questions. It’s a very grassroots way of sharing information and educating people about this disease.

Even though the goal is to collect 100 hats by the end of September, those who do not know how to knit are invited to attend and learn about IBC. 

“They can take that information and say, ‘My sister needs to know about this, she needs to know what to look for,’ or ‘I’ve got three daughters, I need to share this information with them, so they see these certain signs of what potentially could be cancer and go to a doctor right away rather than put it off,’” Asci said. 

When she was diagnosed with IBC over 20 years ago there was little research and awareness of this form of cancer. She hopes that seeing volunteers working with Stitch House will leave women battling the disease no longer feeling isolated but rather supported by a community empowered by knowledge. 

“Just knowing that this is a handmade gift, that somebody made from their heart to say, ‘I want to help you out,’ that expression of kindness goes a long way in healing and comfort during a very challenging illness,” said Asci, who still has hats and gloves she was gifted with during her chemotherapy treatment. 

The owner of Stitch House, Annissa Essaibi George, is a former at-large city councillor and 2021 candidate for mayor who now serves as the president of the board of directors for Big Sister Boston.

“The Stitch House is very much a business, but I believe in the business of being engaged with our community at large,” Essaibi George said. “We’ve participated in projects like this in the past – a number of years ago we did scarves and hat-making for individuals experiencing homelessness – so it’s not unusual for us … we’re thrilled that Stitch House can be a part of it.”