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Quilting for a cure

By Staff | Oct 9, 2009

It’s been 10 years since Bernie Howard heard the dreaded words, “You have breast cancer.”

But her illness and recovery are never far from her mind. In fact, it was her victory over cancer that inspired her to create an ornate quilt depicting the pink ribbon that represents breast cancer awareness.

When she spotted the pattern at a quilt show last fall, she said to herself, “I have to have that.”

After what Bernie can only estimate as “hundreds of hours” and over 3,000 pieces of material in 1 to 2 1/4 inch squares in 21 different colors, her special quilt in now on display through the month of October at the entrance to the radiology department at the Heart of America Medical Center.

On display alongside Bernie’s quilt is some information for the public on breast cancer detection and treatment, all in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Bernie was just 52 years old when she noticed a lump in one of her breasts in September of 1999. She had been in for a mammogram earlier that year in July, but nothing was detected at that time. Dr. Skipper, the local surgeon at the time, suspected malignancy so he sent her on to Trinity Medical Cancer Center in Minot.

There Bernie went through four rounds of chemotherapy as well as an elective mastectomy of one breast. She has been cancer free ever since, but not without worry. She had what she describes as a “scare” in the other breast several weeks ago, but so far, thankfully, it looks like a false alarm.

Bernie is all too familiar with cancer. Both her mother and father are cancer survivors as well as her husband, Gene. Gene has also lost a sister to pancreatic cancer.

Because of this Bernie makes sure that she and all of her family members stay vigilant about being routinely checked for various forms of cancer. This means regular mammograms and other tests such as undergoing recommended colonoscopy screenings.

She has seven sisters and a daughter who are well aware of how a person’s chances of being diagnosed with cancer go along with family history.

“Because of what I’ve been through, they are all very diligent about getting checked,” Bernie said. “I’ve also encouraged them all to get cancer insurance which has been a savior for Gene and I.”

Bernie has been very active in the local Relay for Life event to raise money for cancer research since it began in 2004. She also took part in the Relay for Life event in Devils Lake for a few years prior to that. She is motivated to help in any event that raises awareness for the cause.

In fact, her first thoughts were to auction the quilt to raise money for Relay for Life, but her daughter Jan convinced her mom that it was much too valuable on a personal level. So Bernie recently surprised her daughter with the quilt as a gift for her 40th birthday.

All of Bernie’s trials and tribulations with cancer both in herself and her family members gave her the motivation to complete such a time-consuming project.

“I bought the fabrics and pondered it a while,” Bernie explained. “But I didn’t know what I was getting into.”

She would routinely spend four hours a night in her sewing room. Much of that time was spent ripping and replacing fabric when she made mistakes in the complicated pattern. Much of the time was spent with Gene at her side.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime project. I think my husband was just as happy as I was when it was finally done. The pattern is for giveaway,” she joked.

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