A wide rectangular image showing an inset circular photo of Emanuela and her son, with a background of a handknit colorwork yoke Atlas sweater in gray and rose hues. [Text] She Is Fine, She Is Knitting – by Emanuela Tallo-Riley

My name is Emanuela and I’m a knitter.

I never could have imagined what those simple words would mean for me.

I started knitting when I was young. My Grandma taught me and I got hooked. For many years I knitted only occasionally, but when a new yarn store opened in the neighborhood, I couldn’t wait to visit and shop and make new friends. That store is now gone, but the friends I made are still part of my life: a big, wonderful community of knitters.

I always knit. I always have multiple projects going on at the same time – sometime consigned to remain UFOs (unfinished objects). When I travel, the first thing to pack is a project, or two or more, since you never know.

I knit in the car, at my son’s music rehearsals, while waiting in line at the grocery store (not now in pandemic era). I knit everywhere. Sometimes it is just a way of passing time. I’m always thinking of new projects. It has always been part of me, without even thinking about it.

Then, in this horrible year 2020 something happened and that gave me a completely different perspective on my knitting. Doubtless, 2020 has been a very difficult year for millions of people. And for our family it came with an extra shocking surprise.

 

Emanuela sits in the sunlight outside her home with her family gathered around her.

 

At the end of August, I went to the emergency room with severe abdominal pain. I had emergency surgery after a couple of hours. The doctors saved my life but at the same time they found out I have cancer. It happened so suddenly, that I had no time to even suffer shock. COVID-19 made everything more difficult because they did not let family in to visit. My husband was allowed in the ER for a brief moment before surgery. My recollection of that day is a blur.

One thing I remember. After surgery, in the recovery room, the nurse let me speak briefly with my husband and when he asked me if there was anything I needed for him to bring to the hospital, I remember I asked for my knitting bag!

“Which one?” he asked.

“The yellow one with our son’s sweater in it,” I replied.

The next day (surgery lasted long enough that was late at night), a nurse delivered the knitting bag and put it near my bed. It was a silly request. There was no way I could knit. I was intubated for a couple of days and then I had IVs in both my arms and could not move that easily. But my knitting bag was on the hospital nightstand. Waiting.

After a week I was sent home. Happy to be with my family. And my knitting bag with me. Recovery was going to be long and as soon as I could gather my strength, I had to start fighting the cancer.

I started back knitting probably a couple of days after coming back home. I had the urgency of finishing my UFOs. First of all, my son’s Atlas sweater and his college blanket!

 

Emanuela's son sits near the Christmas tree in the family home, preparing to play his cello.

 

I started to knit Atlas well before I got sick. I began when my son tried on a store sample of the Atlas and fell in love with it; I knew then that I had to knit it. We carefully chose the color combination together, and I purchased and wound the yarn. But at the time, I had so many other projects started that it didn’t have priority.

After my surgery I felt an urgency to finish the project, which I did during the tense week of the 2020 election. At first I thought it would be very difficult – I had never done a yoke sweater before; but as I worked on it, it became very intuitive. The sweater seemed to slip naturally out of my needles. I remember one time when I knew I had to deal with the short rows in absolute silence. The solution? I woke up in the middle of the night and finished that part off.

My son loves it and wears it all the time. He even asked me to leave the provisional cast on yarn on the bottom!

 

Emanuela sits in the sunlight outside her home. Her son stands behind her hugging her.

 

And soon after knitting became something new for me.

Chemo is very hard on my body and on my mind. There are days where I can barely get out of bed. I’m tired all the time. Simple tasks are becoming more and more difficult. My concentration is very low and I spend most of the days watching bad TV series or listening to podcasts.

One of the things that keeps me grounded and that is a constant in this new life of mine is knitting. Knitting is helping me with the neuropathy caused by the chemo infusions. Keeping my fingers active reduces the sensation of pins and needles – even my doctors are surprised about that.

Following a challenging pattern stimulates my chemo brain making me more alert. Finishing a project is a big achievement and gives me a sense of accomplishment. The day before the infusion, I prepare my knitting bag for the hospital.

Little by little I’m going after my UFO’s (not without starting a new project at the same time).

I have a long way ahead and I’m sure my knitting bag will be with me. And when someone asks about me, my husband says, “She is fine; she is knitting.” 


Emanuela's cat helpfully lies atop her knitting.

19 comments

  • What a beautiful post! Sending well wishes to you as you fight cancer.

    Corey on

  • Thank you for sharing your thoughtful story and beautiful family photos! You are truly an inspiration to us all ♥️Take care

    Jerri on

  • Praying for you to stay strong and not to drop too many stitches.Knit on!❤️

    Papisbaby on

  • You rock! Keep knitting! It is how we move forward. Stitch. By stitch. By stitch. Until we get to the end.

    Susan Rainey on

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