My first big project

It took me a month and a half, but I finally finished my first shawl. I'm so proud of it!! A lot of work - and good thoughts - went into this shawl.

My aunt taught me how to crochet when I was in fourth or fifth grade, and I crocheted a little doll as my first project. I was pretty excited about my new skill, so I passed it along to my childhood best friend, Amy. Then I stopped crocheting... Until last winter when Amy brought me to a craft night she was attending and she retaught me. Ah. Good things go around, don't they?

My first project last winter was a few headbands. Then I did a few Easter eggs. Then a few hats. And then came the shawl.

I have a special person in mind for this project. It's a woman in the middle of her second go-around with cancer. A woman I've known since I was a small child. A woman I love. I hope this shawl brings her comfort.

Here it is:

Find original pattern here:

First Yarn Donations!

Our first yarn donations came in today!! 

The first batch was a Christmas gift to me this morning from my 10 year old goddaughter!

"This gift is for your prayer shawls because people made blankets and pillows for me and it made me feel better when I was in the hospital. Merry Christmas!" - M.T. , 10 year old from MN

The second batch arrived priority mail this afternoon from Jessica Johnston, the designer and marketer of the Merkel Cell Carcinoma Awareness t-shirts.

"I hope the yarn brings blessings and hope to others during their difficult times." - Jessica Johnston, New York

Thank you so much for your generosity! We are so honored to have you as members of Team Yarn!

Dr. Paul Nhgiem is the leading researcher on MCC.
Order a t-shirt for $20 and support research.
We at Team Yarn are passionate about spreading awareness and helping those with cancer catch it early. In particular, we want to increase awareness of the rare and aggressive form of skin cancer that Amy’s mom, Cheryl, battled. Since MCC is an uncommon malignancy, few patients are familiar with the disease and few doctors are familiar with its treatment.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC) is a skin cancer, but while most skin cancers are nothing to fear, MCC is one with a high mortality rate. Roughly 1/3 of those diagnosed with MCC die.

What is Merkel Cell Carcinoma?

Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), sometimes referred to as a neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin, arises from the uncontrolled growth of Merkel cells in the skin. It is a rare skin cancer with roughly 1500 cases per year in the United States, making it about 40 times less common than melanoma. MCC has the potential to be lethal, and thus prompt aggressive treatment is warranted. Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) occurs most often on the sun-exposed face, head, and neck.

MCC is associated with immunosuppression, UV exposure, age over 50 and a newly discovered polyomavirus that is common on the normal-appearing skin of most people. The cause of MCC has not yet been firmly established, and therapeutic interventions at late stage disease are frustratingly ineffective. Researchers are investigating immune evasion strategies employed by MCC, and how to overcome them using immunotherapy approaches — which as the potential to help anyone with cancer.

MCC is caused by a virus in 8 out of 10 cases. It’s a virus that many get as children, but the virus causes cancer only rarely. A series of molecular events must occur for tumors to develop, and each of these events is rare. Various studies provide hope that the human immune system one day could be recruited to help clear tumors in some patients. Researchers are looking for ways to  stimulate virus-specific immunity.

What does MCC look like?

MCC usually develops on sun-exposed skin as a firm, painless, flesh-colored to red-violet bump. The initial small bump tends to grow rapidly over weeks to months.

What is a Merkel cell?

Merkel cells are found in the epidermis (outer layer of the skin). Although the exact function of Merkel cells is unknown, they are thought to be touch receptors. They have both sensory and hormonal functions and are sometimes referred to as neuroendocrine cells.

Who gets MCC?

Individuals over the age of 65 are far more likely to develop MCC. Fair skin and a history of extensive sun exposure also increase the chances. This cancer is found most commonly on sun exposed areas of the body (e.g., head, neck, arms) in older Caucasian individuals, who may also have other sun-induced skin cancers. MCC is associated with weakened immune function, such as in patients with HIV or organ transplants. However, most people who get MCC are not immune suppressed.

What immune problems make beating MCC more difficult?

People with severe defects in "T lymphocytes" (key cells of the immune system) have a 10-30 times greater chance of developing MCC and twice the chance of losing the battle with MCC compared to people with a normal immune system. The conditions that cause such severe T lymphocyte defects include HIV (AIDS), taking immune suppressive drugs after solid organ transplantation, and certain immune cancers such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia. In contrast, suffering from more "colds" than average will not importantly affect your ability to fight MCC.


The leading research team in the world is based in Seattle under the direction of Paul Nghiem, MD, PhD.  Dr. Nghiem oversees both the clinic and research teams at the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. He has cared for over 500 patients with MCC and has read, lectured and written about this uncommon and challenging disease. His contributions to the MCC literature can be viewed at his laboratory website at

Get connected

Google Group - Online support group for those diagnosed with MCC and their families - Web site run by MCC researchers
Wikipedia page
Merkel Cell Fund Facebook group
Sue Thompson didn’t want her friend Pamela B. Mitchell to suffer from a cold head while undergoing cancer treatments. And so, Sue knit her a warm, soft cap. Discovering there were lot of folks out there with cold heads as a result of chemotherapy or other medical treatments, she decided to keep knitting.

As the project grew, Sue, a retired physician, began recieving so many caps from volunteers that the project basically took over her life. To distribute the workload, she began soliciting volunteers to run satellite Head Hugger groups. Today, there are 90 groups throughout the United States. Team Yarn here in Minneapolis is the newest group.

“I have a lot of energy and I feel best about myself if I feel that I am contributing somehow to my world,” said Dr. Thompson. “I love to knit, crochet and sew, so this idea of making chemo caps fit my needs perfectly. There are no quotas, there is no pressure. I just wait until I have a box filled and then I pick a place to send it.”

Head Hugger group members knit, crochet and sew. Volunteers distribute caps, shawls and “lapghans” to hospitals, oncology offices, hospices, and more so that they can be readily available to those who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy, etc. Their creations are solid, multi-colored, striped; plain and embellished; baby pastels, candy brights, soothing browns and blues, go-with-anything white. Some are no-nonsense, made for warmth rather than for wows. Some are silly - those made from “fancy fur” yarn in hot pink and other eye-scorching colors that are especially popular with kids. Most of the caps are made with acrylic yarn; wool is avoided because some people are allergic to animal fibers and because wool can be scratchy on tender scalps. Some materials are donated by yarn shops and yarn manufacturers, while much is purchased by members.

Many of the Head Hugger volunteers have been inspired to join because they have lost a loved one or know someone fighting cancer.

Some members are experienced craftspeople who have been fashioning hats for years. Others are brand new and just know they want to do something to help those undergoing chemo and radiation treatments. They learn from those with experience. Thompson personally leads two groups, one in her hometown of Stevensville, Maryland and one at the local women’s prison.

People around the globe have lent a hand to Head Huggers. Thompson has received packages from Europe and Canada, as well as the Pacific Coast, Texas and the East Coast.

Gail Hamm, program director at Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana, believes Head Hugger caps may also aid with the physical and emotional effects of hair loss through illness. “It's unbelievable how cold a person's head becomes at night with no hair,” she said. “It is a reminder of one's vulnerability and mortality and a constant reminder that one has been diagnosed with cancer. The caps and scarves we received help preserve a person's dignity and make that person feel more normal.”

Read more about Head Huggers here.

Site Images

This page hosts all of the images in the Team Yarn website.

If you can crochet, knit or sew you can join Team Yarn! Our mission is to provide the comfort of hats, scarves, shawls and afghans to people who are fighting cancer. 

My mom was diagnosed with Merkel Cell Carcinoma in 2011, and she began chemotherapy in the winter of 2012. We quickly learned that a head without hair grows cold very fast! I began crocheting chemo caps for her right away, as did my sister-in-law, and my mom was also blessed to receive handmade gifts from the cancer support center in her hospital. Each gift was loved and appreciated. It's amazing how meaningful such a simple gift can be.

So, I'm asking you to join me in passing that gift on to others. Team Yarn is a satellite group of Head Huggers, a national organization. We have extended our mission beyond hats, and we invite you to also donate scarves, shawls & afghans. We are in the Minneapolis area, and all items will be distributed to hospitals and local organizations to support cancer patients here in Minnesota.

The guidelines are simple. Items should be...
- handmade
- new
- washable
- free of smoke and pet hair
- wool is OK but not preferred, as it is often an irritant & allergen.

We will have an informal monthly meeting where you can drop off your projects or stay and craft with us

Upcoming Monthly Meeting:

Date: Sunday, January 20th, 2013

Time: Noon-3pm - Stay the whole time or just drop in!

Location: Silverwood Cafe at Silverwood Park in St. Anthony, MN 
(Click on the link for directions and for the cafe menu.)

Feel free to email with questions or just to let us know you're planning to come:

You can also mail your projects to:
Team Yarn
c/o Amy Pass
2536 18th Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55404