Chemo Caps

Peggy Gilbert has a sign with a picture of her son Justin on it to go with her chemo caps when she sells them at area farmers markets.

BROOKVILLE — Peggy Gilbert started knitting when every parent’s worst nightmare came true for her and her family. Her son Justin was diagnosed with leukemia at 16 years old. She began knitting so she had something to do with her hands while spending so much time in the hospital.

While they were in Children’s Hospital a woman that worked there would come around to the rooms and give the families money to help with some of the expenses. She did this because she had also lost a son to cancer. People that knew she worked at the hospital would give money to her to pass along, so it was going directly into the hands of families that needed it.

When Gilbert would receive money from her she would use it for gas, food, and the travel expenses of going to Pittsburgh every week. Gilbert’s neighbors would also give the family a big box of things with a check every Christmas. Gilbert shared that she would keep track of all of it, and make sure every cent got spent on Justin. “We were given so much when we had nothing,” she said.

Gilbert decided she could also do something to give money back. She has been going to farmers markets for 10 years, and started her chemo caps four years ago for Children’s Hospital. This is the first year that she has started selling them at the farmers markets. She makes some money by selling them, then sends the money and any leftover hats to the hospital at the end of farmers market season. She then begins making new hats for the next year. She also makes little hats and booties for the neonatal unit.

She sells her hats at the Brookville Farmers and Artisans Market on the first and third Fridays of the month, and the DuBois Farmers Market every Saturday morning. The hats cost $15, and all the money is donated directly to the patients at Children’s Hospital in the oncology and hematology units.

“I’m very thankful for the giving hearts and it feels good to reciprocate,” Gilbert said about giving money back to families going through something similar to what her family went through.

Gilbert expressed how great the Children’s Hospital is to the families that find themselves there. She said the ninth floor rooms have couches with pull-out beds so parents can stay with their children. His sister, Emily Gilbert, recalled they had a schedule of who would stay in the room with Justin at night. “When the next person would come in they would high five the person leaving as they switched out.” He was never left alone at the hospital.

He spent his 21 birthday in the hospital for a bone marrow transplant. When he got out his dad made sure he took him for a beer.

“You never saw a happier cancer patient” Peggy Gilbert recalled. A week before he died he had his doctor laughing with him in the hospital. When the doctor came in to tell him he wasn’t going to make it, he responded by suggesting they talk about something else because they couldn’t change it so they might as well not focus on it. Justin was 21 years old when he died.

Peggy and Emily Gilbert had many memories and happy thoughts when recalling Justin. It is still an emotional topic for them to talk about. “Sometimes you just have to cry... and then you accept this as your new normal.... but you never forget,” Peggy Gilbert said.

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