Doctor’s initiative gets a warm welcome

Dr Jill Harris with one of the blankets pieced together from squares knitted by patients.

A heart-warming initiative by GVI Oncology in Rondebosch is not only taking chemotherapy patients’ minds off their rigorous treatment, but will soon benefit children at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

Since March this year, the centre’s chemo patients have been knitting woollen squares which are being sewn together to form blankets, which will be presented to the children’s hospital at a later date. As many as eight patients are knitting at any one time – including men – with more people joining in as the months go by.

The initiative is the brainchild of GVI Oncology’s Dr Jill Harris, who encountered a similar practice at the centre’s Somerset West branch while on sabbatical last year.

“The patients had balls of wool and would sit and knit while they received treatment. Although I wasn’t sure if it would fly with our patients here, I bought wool and needles and chatted to our chemo sisters who thought it was a good idea. But it has really taken off,” Dr Harris said.

She said it was “incredibly stressful” for patients to receive treatment in the chemotherapy room, so for them to be able to take their minds off the treatment through knitting was wonderful for all involved.

“Each block knitted represents that person, their life and their love. Initially, we had gazillions of blocks and didn’t know what to do with them. Then we thought of piecing them together to form blankets, but first we had to learn how to crochet. So we had a tutorial, and now we can’t keep up. Knitting is very fashionable at the moment.”

Dr Harris, who is an avid knitter herself, said about 20 blocks were used in each blanket. The blankets are intended for smaller children, although we have made bigger ones as well. We have spoken to the children’s hospital, and they are very keen on our project. We will be announcing the formal handover of the blankets at a later stage.

“I have been so touched by this project, and to see our patients knitting and talking to one another, encouraging one another, is very special.”

Dr Harris said the centre had seen a recent increase in the number of cancer patients being treated.

“There are a few reasons for this. These days more private GPs are doing more prostate checks, and then refer patients to us. There are also a lot more private mammography procedures taking place, so those patients also come to us,” she said.

Interestingly, the centre was treating fewer male patients for lung cancer, although the number of female lung cancer patients was rising.

“We are older as a society now. What we have seen are incidents in lung cancer decreasing. That’s because not as many men smoke today as they did in the past. However, with women, we are seeing these numbers increasing, because women started smoking later than men. Previously, it was not as acceptable for women to be smokers, so what we are seeing now is the first instances of cancer in women who smoked when it became acceptable to do so.”

Given the initiative’s success, it is not surprising that the centre is appealing for any donations of wool and needles from the public. To find out how to get involved, call Rafiek Ebrahim at GVI Oncology on 086 199 9914 or email