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Cancer survivor using hardships and talents to provide warmth and hope to patients

(CBS Austin)

An Austin woman is using her past hardships and her talents to bring warmth and hope to people who need it most this holiday season.

Maribeth Rowland is a breast cancer survivor. For four years now, she’s spent the months before Christmas crocheting hats and beanies for other cancer patients.

"It’s this white area here," Rowland says, pointing to a scan of her mammogram. "It was very clear there (was) something wrong.”

Doctors diagnosed Rowland with stage 2 breast cancer.

"I was diagnosed November 13th,” said Rowland. “On her birthday."

That "her" was Rowland's mom. As irony would have it, her mother died years earlier from cancer.

"It was pretty bad," said Rowland.

It inspired Rowland to fight. She endured two surgeries and radiation.

Rowland said the relationships she developed with the other women going through treatment at Texas Oncology helped. Rowland also never went through the often traumatizing process of losing her hair.

"I felt a little, almost guilty that I didn’t lose my hair with them," said Rowland.

That guilt combined with Rowland’s compassion, turned into an idea. She learned to crochet and began making dozens of warm, cozy hats for the women who did lose their hair.

The hats are different colors and some have crocheted flowers or other embellishments.

This year she made 45 hats, despite a setback that could have kept her from making a single one.

Unrelated to her cancer diagnosis, Rowland had back issues that required surgery. The recovery took months.

"All I could do all day was lay flat on my back," said Rowland.

Rowland couldn’t work and had no money for yarn.

That's where her sister stepped in. She posted something on NextDoor.com and on Craigslist explaining the situation and asking for donations.

"The donations just poured in,” said Rowland. “It was overwhelming."

It inspired Rowland to keep crocheting, even if she had to do it horizontally.

"It was a little difficult, but I managed to do it anyway," said Rowland.

She finished the hats with a week to go before Christmas and delivered them to Texas Oncology Center. It is the same place she received treatment.

"They loved them last year, they are going to love them this year," said senior receptionist, Deb Durbin.

Durbin said the hats aren't just a nice gesture, the patients actually use them.

"They always use them,” said Durbin. “They always have different ones. She did a great job and every year they are different. You never see a patient with the same hat and it kind of becomes a part of them."

It’s a Christmas gift that may have taken months, but inspires a lifetime of hope.

"I’m just glad they're enjoying that hats,” said Rowland. “That makes me happy. "

Rowland’s daughter just began working as a nurse with premature babies. Rowland said when she isn't crocheting hats at Christmas, she plans to also make tiny blankets for the babies.

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