“My story is a little unusual,” said Teresa Clark, chuckling as she recounted her first public trip after having undergone chemotherapy.
“We had just left an outpatient procedure, just one day after I got my first treatment,” said Clark. “My sister and I went to go drop off a prescription and went to a Starbucks nearby and waited until the medicine was ready to pick up. That’s where I met Lara.”
Clark was referring to Lara MacGregor, the founder of Hope Scarves, who approached Clark in the customer line and asked if she had just undergone chemotherapy.
“I essentially lost my hair in a day,” said Clark. “It started falling out that morning and I had bald patches by the end of the night.”
The two exchanged contact information there in the coffee shop and, a few days later, Clark received a box in the mail. Inside was a scarf, instructions on how to tie a scarf around her head, and a story of encouragement from the scarf’s previous wearer.
The story begins with MacGregor who, at the age of 30 and seven months pregnant with her second child, was informed that she had breast cancer.
While undergoing treatment, an acquaintance named Kelly mailed MacGregor a box of scarves with an attached letter that read: “You can do this.”
After a year of treatment, MacGregor had not only welcomed her newborn son into the world, she also overcome cancer. She promised to return the scarves back to the original owner. Instead, Kelly suggested that she pay it forward.
“I wore the scarves for a year,” said MacGregor. “Rather than giving them back, [Kelly] told me to keep the inspiration going and to share it with others.”
That one piece of advice formed the basis for what is now Hope Scarves, a nonprofit organization that helps cancer patients receive, wear, and pass on scarves of their own. Established in February of 2012, Hope Scarves has since become a support network for patients and survivors to share stories of encouragement.
MacGregor often visits support groups and survivor meetings to offer encouragement and spread the word about Hope Scarves. During one such meeting, MacGregor was introduced to a young woman named Amy Keller, a breast cancer patient who had been diagnosed in August of 2012.
“Lara came and sat with me during lunch and told me a little bit about Hope Scarves,” said Keller. “I gave her my info and two weeks later I got a scarf in the mail. It had three letters from the women who wore them before. Then I noticed one of the letters was written by Lara herself.”
Keller has since had a double mastectomy and is currently going through her second round of chemotherapy. However, Keller said that she found inspiration by reading the stories of other women who fought through cancer and by learning about what their scarves meant to them.
“One of the letters had some advice that just resonated with me: ‘Remember that you’re stronger than you think you are,’” said Keller. “That was good for me to hear. But I think the whole gesture was touching and just really inspiring.”
According to MacGregor, the majority of the people connected through Hope Scarves are breast and ovarian cancer patients, ranging from 10 to 82 years old.
“When you’re undergoing cancer treatment, everybody says, ‘Let me know if I can help,’” said Clark. “But it’s feels so foreign to ask for help, like it’s such an imposition. That’s why it was such a surprise when I got these scarves. At a moment when I needed comfort the most, someone reached out to me.”
Clark asked MacGregor how she could repay her. MacGregor simply told her the same advice she had received: to pay it forward.
“There’s something about breast cancer that cuts into your femininity and sexuality,” said Clark. “And that’s scary. I feel like now I can be there for someone, not only by writing a note to go along with the scarf, but by showing up and reaching out like Lara did for me.”
Though Clark has yet to write her letter for the scarf’s next recipient, she said she intends on giving back to Hope Scarves and wants to spread hope to cancer patients and everyone touched by cancer.
“It’s interesting to envision yourself a year from now, at a point where I won’t need the scarf anymore,” said Clark, who just finished chemotherapy in April. “I’m looking forward to that day.”
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