Holiday Memories: Survivor Wreaths of Hope and Friendship

Every holiday season, for the past 7 years, I am reminded of hosting a series wreath-making sessions, in 2008, for breast cancer survivors that I am privileged to call friends. We met as strangers, years earlier, working as patient navigators for the American Cancer Society.  Each year, as navigators, we met with thousands of women and some men in treatment. We offered comfort, information, and access to the free programs and services of the American Cancer Society and its community partners.

As I take out the cloth wreaths I made, warm memories come back of the support and hope my fellow navigators gave to those in treatment at NYC hospitals. When you are in treatment, nothing spells hope like meeting and spending time with a survivor!

The wreaths never fail to remind me of the hope, friendship, and support we gave and continue to give each other still today. When I was diagnosed with a second primary breast cancer, 10 years after my first breast cancer, I didn’t need to find a breast cancer support group; I already had one!

I take time to remember as I hang the wreaths. The years I spent as a patient navigator were good years, fulfilling years.

There were 7 part-time staff and 74 volunteer navigators that made up the American Cancer Society NYC Patient Navigator Program. We navigated in 14 hospitals, 11 of which were public hospitals. The hospitals were located throughout the five boroughs of NYC.

Navigators represented the diversity of NYC. Navigators served in hospitals where their racial and ethnic background and their language  fluency made them a good fit for populations served there.

As navigators, we usually worked alone, visiting patients in chemotherapy rooms, and in radiation waiting rooms as well as the various medical clinics.

Many women, a number whom were under 45 years of age, oft times didn’t seek care until their breast cancer was at an advanced stage and paining them. Their reasons for delaying seeking treatment, when they shared them, ran the gamut from lack of knowledge about breast cancer, lack of insurance, cultural issues, and fear.

It was a real treat when we navigators had the opportunity to meet, as a group, to share our experiences and give each other support. Throughout the year, we met for lunch in the various hospital cafeterias at least once a month. We kept in weekly contact by email and remembered birthdays.

Holidays brought that special opportunity to celebrate another year together, not only as navigators, but as survivors.

In December of 2008, we didn’t know it would be the last year of all of us getting together. We were all determined to make the wreath making sessions special as some of us had experienced recurrences and were no longer able to navigate; metastatic breast cancer was taking its toll.

I wish I could say that we have all been able to get together each year, since then, but, for some life events got in the way. Social media makes it easy to stay in touch when getting together is not possible. Skype sessions are almost the real thing, but I miss the hugs we always exchanged.

Three of us passed from breast cancer in the past few years, while now a few others are coping with metastatic disease.

Our bond as survivors, who came together as navigators, will always be there.  

This holiday season, I will share a phone call, or an email, or get together with those wonderful survivors who are my forever friends.

The memories sewn into each wreath I made during those sessions will be with me always.

Directions for Making 1 Wreath


3 strips of fabric (assorted/solid colors or holiday patterns) cut 72 inches long by 10 inches wide

1 strip of a solid color/print for the bow cut 60 inches long by 10 inches wide

1 circular wire ring 12 inches in diameter (a large clothing hanger will do – bend to shape* )

Thread to match the color of the fabric

Sewing needles for hand sewing

Use of a sewing machine to make the strips into tubes for stuffing

2 bag of 100% Poly-fil for stuffing -20 ounces

1 long stick about 1 and ½ inches wide to use for pushing the fiber-fil into the tubing

Cutting Directions:

Cut 3 strips of fabric 72“long by 10” wide

Cut one strip of cloth for the bow – 60” long by 10“wide

Sewing Directions:


  • Turn 3 strips (tubes) to be used for the wreath to the wrong side, pin or baste stitch one ½ inch from the edge. Leave openings every 12 inches to make stuffing easier. Machine stitch to openings (every 12 inches, leaving 4 inches open for stuffing, machine stitch for 12 inches, leave 4’ open…repeat until finished.
  • Turn tubes right side out, begin stuffing, use stick to help position stuffing in the tube, stuff each open section then hand stitch closed until you finish each tube.
  • Secure 3 tubes with a pin or stitch together at one end. Begin to braid until the 3 tubes have only 4 inches to the end ( use this to join with that part of the wreath that is held together with a pin or stitching)
  • Shape into a circle, join beginning and end of wreath together, hand- sew.
  • Mount on wire ring by sewing wreath tubes to the wire at a few inch intervals


  • Turn bow fabric wrong side out, baste ½ inch from the edge, machine stitch the long side and one short side, turn inside out, press, hand stitch or machine stitch the open end closed.
  • Tie bow around the wreath at the point where you joined the top and bottom of the wreath , be sure to include the wire

Note: You can purchase wire rings for your wreaths at a hardware store or online.*

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