Samm McDonald spends more than 720 hours a year — sometimes up to six hours a day — crocheting colorful rows of yarn into afghans for breast cancer patients at the Sharp Memorial Hospital Breast Health Center.
In total, she makes nearly 150 afghans a year for patients she will never meet.
"Making afghans is a way for me to pay it forward and connect with patients who are going through the same experience I went through," says 67-year-old McDonald.
The unique afghans — no two are the same — are 48 inches by 48 inches and created with three simple stiches. McDonald tries to crochet two to three hours in the morning, one hour before bed and use any spare time throughout her day to crochet.
McDonald learned to crochet in her early 20s from a co-worker. She began by making afghans for family members who enjoyed receiving them as gifts. In 2007, while serving as chair of the board of directors for Susan G. Komen San Diego, she thought making afghans for breast cancer patients could help encourage others to donate to the organization and support breast cancer research.
For every monetary donation she received, McDonald created an afghan for a patient receiving cancer treatment at Sharp Memorial's Breast Health Center. At the time, the Center was the recipient of a Susan G. Komen San Diego community grant. Now, she makes and donates afghans for all patients who've had mastectomies at the Breast Health Center.
The afghans are hand-delivered to patients the day after their mastectomy surgery by Breast Health Center patient navigators. They include a thoughtful note from McDonald: "Made with a warm heart and loving hands by 20-year breast cancer survivor, Sammantha. May this bring you comfort on your journey."
Many patients use the afghans to stay warm during their chemotherapy treatments, hold for comfort or treasure for the love that went into making it.
"The look on a patient's face when she receives the afghan and sees it comes from a 20-year breast cancer survivor says it all," says Maureen Wallace, a registered nurse and Breast Health Center patient navigator at Sharp Memorial Hospital. "A painful expression turns into a smile and sometimes tears; patients are thankful to receive such a meaningful gift."
McDonald hopes to make afghans for many years to come.
"As long as my fingers hold out, I will continue to make afghans," says McDonald. "They are special to patients and help make their journey a little easier."
For more information about the Breast Health Center at Sharp Memorial Hospital, visit sharp.com/breasthealth.