Lara MacGregor discovered she had breast cancer while seven months pregnant with her second son. She was 30 years old.
Shortly after her diagnosis, MacGregor received a box of scarves from a friend with a note pinned on top that read, “You can do this!” The scarves came from a young woman who had faced cancer, was healthy and no longer needed them, and she wanted to pass them along.
“This gave me so much encouragement to know she was healthy and didn’t need them anymore. And so I wore the scarves throughout my treatment and collected a lot of other scarves,” MacGregor says. “I never wore a wig. I was more comfortable in a scarf, so by the end of my treatment, I probably had almost 50 scarves.”
MacGregor underwent a double mastectomy, nodectomy and chemotherapy. Upon finishing treatment, she attended the Young Survival Coalition Conference, which is for women under 40 who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. She brought her box of scarves to the conference, where she met Roberta, who was just beginning chemo. MacGregor gave Roberta the scarves and taught her how to tie them.
Roberta eventually mailed the scarves back to MacGregor, who in turn passed them along to a new friend, Brooke, who was undergoing chemo for leukemia.
Then came the idea to help even more people with her scarves: MacGregor wrote up a business plan and started a nonprofit.
With an MBA in public administration and a background in fundraising, MacGregor was familiar with nonprofit management. Beginning in winter 2012, she wrote a mission statement and organized a board for her organization; then she began collecting scarves to build up inventory.
And that’s how Hope Scarves came to be.
The purpose of the nonprofit is to support women going through cancer and to pass along a practical and inspiring gift. Each scarf is accompanied by a story or message, something MacGregor believes is invaluable.
“Hope Scarves is changing the way people experience cancer. Whether you’re a patient, a survivor, or have a loved one going through cancer, Hope Scarves can make it a little less scary and a bit more beautiful,” she says. “We just do our little bit to pass along encouragement from one woman to another.”
In the fall of 2013, MacGregor hired a part-time employee, Erica Bricking, to help with administrative duties. She also forged a partnership with Norton Cancer Institute, which now provides Hope Scarves to patients, a model she hopes to expand to other hospitals.
Another project MacGregor recently founded is Hope Scarves Bracelets. When a donated scarf is damaged or too small, local jeweler Jen Kalmey of Coquettish Designs uses the scarf to create a bracelet adorned with gold beads. Hope Scarves volunteers help assemble the bracelets, which are sold to raise money.
But among all of this success, everything changed several weeks ago. At the beginning of January, MacGregor was in a lot of pain. Initially, she thought it was a sports injury or a slipped disc, but an MRI and biopsy revealed lesions on her sacrum — it was the same cancer she had been diagnosed with six years earlier.
MacGregor and her family announced the diagnosis on the Hope Scarves Facebook page:
Lara was recently diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer that has spread to her bones. Her next few weeks will be filled with testing and doctor’s appointments as she better understands the implications of this diagnosis and treatment plans that will follow.
During our interview, MacGregor explains that 2013 had been such a great year filled with travel and adventure; then 2014 happened, which she describes as, “BAM! Hope you had all your fun!”
But the outpouring of love and support has been astounding. When she posted the story of her diagnosis on the Hope Scarves Facebook page, it had 2,000 views the first day. The Hope Scarves website received 4,000 hits. And on a normal week, Hope Scarves sends out 10-12 scarves, but since her diagnosis, they’ve been sending out 20 or more.
Despite the devastating news that her cancer has returned, MacGregor says she’s heartened to know her story has directed more people to Hope Scarves.
Initially, MacGregor’s goal was simply to support women going through cancer by providing connections, as well as a scarf as they were beginning to lose their hair during chemo. As Hope Scarves grew, however, it became a platform for survivors to share stories, encouragement and hope.
“I had this idea that I thought was really great, but it’s kind of scary when you put it out in the universe and hope that other people think it’s great,” she says. “It’s so personal. It’s not a business, even though it has become a business, a nonprofit business, and we have to file taxes and make reports to the board and all that kind of stuff, but it’s just so personal to me. Every package we send is so personal.”
Given her recent diagnosis, MacGregor realizes she must listen to the words of encouragement she’s been passing along, remembering to be hopeful and recognizing the beauty in every day. What has shifted for MacGregor is her perspective: Instead of approaching cancer as something she can beat, she realizes there isn’t a cure. She intends to fight for a long time, but she knows she must learn to live with cancer.
As MacGregor faces several months of intensive treatment, she has scaled back her responsibilities at Hope Scarves, depending more on Bricking, her volunteers, and her board of directors. For now, her focus is on her family and her treatment plan.
On Jan. 16, this message was posted on the Hope Scarves Facebook page:
I am happy to share we now know that Lara’s breast cancer metastasis is isolated to her sacrum bone. She began radiation today followed by hormone therapy and possible surgery. Lara is honored by the response of the Hope Scarves community and thanks everyone for their support and encouragement. In her words, “Cheers to hope, faith, love, friends, family, medicine, research, the future and so much more!”
If you would like to donate a scarf or you have a survivor story to share, please visit the Hope Scarves website.