Heather Spence Designs

Hello!  My name is Heather Spence and I started Mystery Quilt to help my mom financially while she was undergoing a stem cell transplant in 2011.
Just two years earlier, in April of 2009, mom was told that she had acute leukemia…the kind that she could live with the rest of her life and it wouldn’t be an issue as long as she took care of herself.  So she started chemo.  It was pretty yucky and it was hard watching her go through chemo but it seemed to work.
Less than a year later, after watching her blood work very closely, there were signs that her cancer was back.  So mom began another round of chemo which she finished December of 2010.
Heather Spence and her mom, Irene Mills

The next spring the doctors reevaluated mom and she was told she had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Not only that, but it was more aggressive than originally thought.  And, since she had already been through the two best chemo treatments it was just a matter of time before she would die.  The only real option was to do a stem cell transplant in the fall of 2011.
So, after buckets of tears and much reflection mom decided to go ahead with the transplant.  She wanted to see her grandkids grow-up and get married; she wanted to hold great-grandbabies in her arms; she wanted to be with us kids through all of our victories; she wanted to LIVE!
The stem cell transplant was intensive.  For more than three months she would need 24-hour care.  She would have to live in a special apartment close to the Cancer Care Alliance in Seattle.  She would undergo massive chemo to kill off her immune system then the donor's cells (all the way from Boston!) would be flown in and the transplant would take place.
The problem was that though her insurance was REALLY good it still didn’t cover housing, food, gas, 24-hour care, etc.  Both my parents were self-employed which meant time away from work and therefore lost wages.
Money was going to be an issue.
My husband and I didn’t have a lot to give (we were recovering financially from the loss of a house) but that’s when I had a brilliant idea.  What if I designed a pattern that I could turn into a mystery quilt?  I could charge $10 per person, they’d receive the pattern, and they could make their own quilt.  It would be fun for quilters and would allow them to help in a tangible way to meet a real need without breaking the bank.
In October 2011 we had our first Mystery Quilt.  We raised over $800 for my mom! This didn’t cover all of her expenses, but it certainly helped.  Each subsequent Mystery Quilt raised more donations than the one before.
Mom, Irene Mills, and Dan Alexander from Dan's Climb Pattern

My mom’s story has a happy ending - her cancer is gone! She still has to be on transplant medications but it’s a small price to pay for her life.  She tires easily and needs to pay close attention to her health and environment, but it’s a joy to know that she is well and that she is with us.
After the initial success we decided to look to help others suffering from cancer.  In order to reach more people and have a greater impact we teamed up with CancerCare.org. CancerCare was founded in 1944 and provides free support services and information to help people manage the emotional, practical, and financial challenges of cancer. 
Without going through cancer personally it is difficult to grasp the deep emotional and financial strain that this illness inflicts. Even for me, being so close to my mom throughout the ordeal, it was difficult to understand. Worrying about these burdens is crippling and creates even greater strain on individuals and families. At the same time, it is also difficult to understand the depth of appreciation and gratitude that somebody fighting cancer feels when someone reaches out and helps, even in small ways. You never know the positive influence you can have when someone is going through a difficult situation. It reminds me of a story one gal posted on her blog about the Mystery Quilt and the impact one person can have on another:
There was a man walking down the beach.  The tide was out and there were starfish all over the beach that had been caught in the open.  Further down the beach was another man stooping over then standing back up and flinging his arm out.
As the first man got closer he realized that the second man was picking up the starfish and throwing them into the sea…one at a time.
The first man asked the second man, “Why are you doing this?  You can’t possibly save them all.”
The second man bent over, picked up a starfish, held it out to the first man and said, “No, you’re right.  I can’t save them all.  But it matters to this one.”
This project mattered to my mom and it matters to many others!!!  After eight Mystery Quilts, we’ve raised over $10,000 to help cancer patients with their basic everyday needs so they can focus on beating their cancer!!!  This matters to each one of them and it will matter to each person that you touch through your donation.
I thank everyone who participates from the bottom of my heart.