Patient Care

A Wilmot Patient’s Quilt Project Gives Back to the Team that Saved Her Life

Jun. 27, 2024

Having support from family and friends is helpful while undergoing cancer treatment, and Nancy Jaquish had this in abundance — from her beloved parents, sisters, and her children.

She also had something else to help her cope with her cancer treatment — the journey of creating a quilt with a special meaning. The planning and execution of the quilt served as a welcome distraction from what Jaquish was going through.

Nancy with her mother
Nancy Jaquish looks at the quilt on display, with her mother by her side.

Now more than five years out from her stage 4 colorectal cancer diagnosis, she was recently able to visit the Wilmot Cancer Center and see her quilt on display near the second-floor elevators. It was an emotional moment, she said, as it reminded her of what went into creating it and the handiwork of her vision for other cancer survivors to see.  

“I just felt this need to give back to the people that helped me and to give strength and encouragement to the people that are just starting this journey,” she says.

Jaquish first stepped through the doors at Wilmot in 2018, after being diagnosed near her Utica-area home. She met her oncology team and discussed a plan that involved chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Knowing she had not only one expert, but a team of gastroenterology specialists who discussed her case in a tumor board meeting, felt reassuring to her.

“It’s amazing because then you pull all this knowledge from so many people,” she says. “It’s not just one person who’s deciding on the treatment. It’s many people.”

It wasn’t just the medical team that helped her heal – Environmental Services team members often checked on Jaquish, asking her mom about her while she was hospitalized in Wilmot’s inpatient units.

“Everyone has been so helpful and hopeful and caring,” she says.

And it was also a friendship she developed with Hazel Pugh, volunteer coordinator at Wilmot. Many people and groups in the community want to donate items to Wilmot to benefit cancer patients, and Pugh is responsible for receiving and distributing these items, through her team of volunteers.

four leaf clover

When Jaquish had the idea for her quilt, she got in touch with Pugh and talked through the idea with her, to ensure it would be something that could be displayed to inspire others. It would incorporate many of the people involved in her journey, including her family, her friends, her clients (she owns a dog grooming business), her care teams, and more. It features an outline of her body, including the scars she has from her surgeries. It also has quotes that inspire her and trinkets she’s received from clients, including a lucky four-leaf clover found on a walk.

From the beginning, Jaquish wanted the process to not only help her cope but to inspire other people going through cancer treatment at Wilmot.

Hazel Pugh and Nancy Jaquish
Hazel Pugh and Nancy Jaquish

“I hope a lot of people get to see this quilt and they get to read all the sayings that are on it and they cannot give up,” she says. “Just find that inner strength to just keep pushing through the hard days. And just keep going.”

Jaquish’s own journey was not easy. It involved two separate hospitalizations on Wilmot’s seventh floor and fifth floor. Because she lived about two-and-a-half hours away, she and her family also spent some time at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge.

She also experienced a relapse, about a year after her treatment had started. It was devastating but through it all, she kept envisioning the quilt in her head.

“It kept me going, thinking about how I was going to do it, what kind of design was going to be on it, and the purpose of the quilt. What did I want on this quilt? So that’s what I was thinking when I was going through all of it.”

Once she was ready to begin making the quilt, it came together relatively quickly – likely because she had put so much thought into it already, but also because of what it signified.

“I just worked on it hour after hour,” she says. “It gave me strength to overcome it.”

Today, Jaquish still checks in with her team and has regular scans to ensure her cancer does not progress.  Between these appointments, she is living life to the fullest, as an owner of a dog grooming shop. She started dating someone a few years ago and they spend a lot of time outdoors, backpacking and kayaking.

She has been able to watch her four children grow into wonderful adults who are doing well and following their passions. She is also expecting her first grandchild.

She has all these moments thanks to the breadth of the Wilmot team, both on the front lines and behind the scenes. Those people – seen and unseen – are the true inspiration for her work and, she hopes, people passing by at Wilmot will see it and feel supported, cared for, and hopeful.

“It really makes you stop and look at all the things that are on the quilt, all these people that touched your life in some little way or a huge way because you walk through these doors and you’re not alone. You’re not alone,” she says. “There’s a whole team of people, and people that you may never even meet, that had a part in getting you better.”

Nancy Jaquish poses with the quilt, now displayed on the second floor of Wilmot Cancer Center.