Meryl Cook had two wake-up calls in one year.
The first was a bad motorcycle accident that forced her off work and left her questioning whether she wanted to return to her homeopathy practice.
The second was a swollen, sore feeling in her breast, which led to a cancer diagnosis months later.
“I suspected something was out of balance,” Cook said in an interview. “I never quite recovered from the motorcycle accident.
“I walked to work every morning and I had this feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was off.”
The Dartmouth native said she didn’t experience the “why is this happening to me” feeling some cancer patients go through.
“Everyone has a different reaction,” Cook said. “There wasn’t a moment of anger or, 'Why me?' I went into action.”
With three weeks to go before her surgery, she pulled together her own health-care team, including an acupuncturist, homeopath and Reiki therapist.
“I went to the beach every day before the surgery for a walk,” Cook said. “And I danced for 10 minutes every day. I would turn on the radio and dance to anything cheerful and uplifting.”
She also designed her first hand-hooked healing mat around this transformational time.
Although Cook had been rug hooking for several years, the hooked mats she started making at this time, especially during her recovery from surgery and radiation, were unique.
“I used chakra colour theory in my designs,” she explained, referring to the belief that the human body has centres of spiritual energy that can be associated with our emotions, healing and colours.
Days after Cook finished her radiation treatment, she heard about a writing and yoga workshop in River John hosted by author and literacy advocate Sheree Fitch and yoga instructor Josette Coulter.
“I was exhausted,” she said. “It was a snowy day and I was nervous about driving. I showed up and wasn’t even prepared. Sheree gave me a notebook and that was the beginning of my writing.”
The writing opened up a wellspring of inspiration for Cook.
“Sheree had us do exercises about imagining possibilities,” Cook said. “Once I started writing, I started getting inspired to design the mats. It went hand in hand.”
She began writing words of inspiration along the linen on the outside of the mat.
Her signature mat, titled Love Letter, has the words, “I let go of the pain of the scar and accept it lovingly into my body” written along the outside.
It features a light and dark pink heart with swirls of dark and lime green in the centre. According to chakra colour theory, the pink represents unconditional love and the green signifies giving and receiving love.
“That rug was a turning point for me,” she said, explaining that the words became like a positive, healing mantra for her as she hooked the rug.
“The hooking really became a way for me to process emotions and to start imagining new possibilities,” Cook said. “I trained my mind and body to start embodying positive feelings.”
The combination of writing and rug hooking became integral to Cook’s healing process and led to seven healing mats and the book One Loop at a Time: A story of rug hooking, healing and creativity.
She said the book appeals to people going through transformational change and seeking to get in touch with their creativity as well as fibre and textile artists interested in her artistic process.
“It’s sort of a how-to guide to spark your creativity and move forward in life, whether you’re facing a health crisis or stuck in a job you don’t like.”
Now that she has recovered from breast cancer, Cook said she wants to share her journey and inspire others.
Although the seven healing mats Cook made during her recovery are not for sale yet, she is holding a workshop in February for those interested in learning to make their own.
Cook described the upcoming workshop at the Nova Scotia Centre for Craft and Design as a love letter to oneself.
“It’s about using rug hooking and writing to set positive goals and reconnect with your joy and creativity.”
Her book launch, at the Dart Gallery in downtown Dartmouth on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m, features an exhibit of her healing mats, a question-and-answer session and a reading from her book.