Who started Head Huggers?

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.


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