The quilt is a simple handcrafted project for a Christmas fundraiser, but it also weaves together the stories of 25 women and how they have found both solace and empowerment in one another's company.
They are the Snowflakes, a breast cancer support group made up of women from Largo, Seminole and Clearwater between the ages 50 and 90. The quilt was on display Oct. 7 as the group gathered to mark National Breast Cancer Awareness Month at the Olive Garden in Largo Mall.
Some drank wine, some iced tea. All wore pink.
Among them was Mindy Mindykowski, a founding member of the Snowflakes. In 1981, when she was 36, she lost her mother to breast cancer.
She has since battled the disease twice herself. The last time included a stem-cell transplant at Moffitt Cancer Center.
"I had always said that if I ever got cancer, I would do the treatments just once and not again because of watching my mother go through what she did," said Mindykowski, 65. "Treatments were so archaic back then.''
But after telling the Snowflakes her cancer was back, she decided to go ahead with treatment.
"They supported me," she said. "I was able to say, 'Okay, hurry up and get it done.' ''
Another Snowflake, Dorothy Niquette, 82, saw her breast cancer return three times.
The last time was just nine months ago, after she served as caregiver to her daughter, who died in October 2009 from scleroderma, an autoimmune disease. Niquette is receiving chemotherapy.
"Some think it came back because of stress, and the Snowflakes have helped me with that in so many ways," she said. "With the group, you can just unload in a way that you can't with family members.''
The women meet weekly at the Tampa Bay Oncology Center on Indian Rocks Road, where oncology nurse Millie Diaz is the group's mentor. They also socialize away from the medical center.
"We came together because we all had breast cancer in common, and our personal friendships have grown from that,'' Niquette said.
The quilt is a collection of patches from donated T-shirts the women have worn during various breast cancer awareness events.
The project is being led by Niquette and Ann Goldstone, 88, whose battle with cancer dates back to 2003, when she received a lumpectomy and radiation treatment.
The Christmas party will include more than 100 pediatric cancer patients from All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. The children will receive a visit from Santa Claus. The Snowflakes will make sure each child receives a gift and teddy bear.
Mindykowski knows the value of human kindness. In 2002, when she was spending most of her days at Moffitt Cancer Center, she was too weak to attend the meetings regularly.
"At that time, the girls made a pink and white afghan for me, tying pink yarn into ribbons on it,'' she said. "They were love knots to let me know they had me in their prayers.
"It was wonderful support, and you know, once I got past my treatment, I found great satisfaction in helping other people. The group helps you realize you can help others with their struggle.''
In between the patches with sayings like Survivor: Hope starts with me, and Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back, the women sewed on cloth snowflakes in recognition of the group name.
They are named the Snowflakes because separately, they are unique and fragile, Goldstone said. "But when we gather together, snowflakes can close down something like an entire city — like cancer.''
Reach Piper Castillo at email@example.com or at (727) 445-4163.