Finding Hope Through Scarves

Cancer Survivor Lara MacGregor talks about how a box-full of scarves from a stranger led her to establish the Hope Scarves Program to help other people diagnosed with cancer.
October 2018 Vol 4 No 5
Lara MacGregor
Louisville, Kentucky
Lara MacGregor

I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 at age 30, when I was 7 months pregnant with our second son. It was an overwhelming time. Initially, the furthest thing from my mind was losing my hair, but then I received a beautiful package of scarves from a woman I never met, with whom I shared a mutual friend.

She had sent me the scarves she no longer needed after her own cancer treatment, and included a note, “You can do this.”

The scarves were practical and inspiring, and knowing that someone else had worn the scarves and faced cancer helped me believe I could do it too.

Pass It Along

Not long after I finished treatment, I went to a Young Survival Coalition Conference. I packed several scarves in hopes that I could pass them along to another woman, as had so graciously been done for me. At the conference I met Roberta, and we laughed together as I showed her different ways to wear a scarf.

After the completion of her treatment, Roberta sent the scarves back to me. I had since moved, and one of the first friends I met, Brooke, was starting cancer treatment. I brought a scarf to Brooke’s house, and we laughed through our tears about what it is like to lose your hair. This whole time I couldn’t stop thinking about the amazing journey these scarves were on.

The scarves had meant so much when I received them, and in a way they meant even more when I was able to pass them along to others.

The Hope Scarves Program

Out of these meaningful experiences, I created Hope Scarves in 2012. The program started in my spare bedroom, with our toddler volunteer by my side, sending out 2 or 3 Hope Scarves a week.

Lara MacGregor

Today, Hope Scarves is a bustling office of volunteers and staff members, sending nearly 50 scarves a week all around the world. We have sent more than 10,000 scarves to every state in the United States as well as 23 other countries to women (and men) facing more than 90 types of cancer. The oldest recipient is 97 years old, and the youngest, 4. Each Hope Scarf package contains a scarf, survivor story, scarf-tying instructions, and information about the Hope Scarves program. Hope Scarves are free to individual recipients.

Of course, not everyone facing cancer loses his or her hair, but our scarves have never been only about being head-coverings. Many women tell us they wear the scarves around their neck during an infusion, or just hold them in their hands to feel the love and support they represent. Some have tied them onto their bed during surgery.

A Scarf with a Story

When the recipient is ready, we ask her to return the scarf with her own story, to be passed along to other survivors. Some of our most special scarves now carry 4 or 5 stories of hope. For this reason, people often refer to us as the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Scarves.”

Whenever we send someone a scarf, we work hard to send the right story and scarf. For example, we always look for a survival story from someone who either had a similar type of cancer, lives in the same region, or had similar life circumstances (such as being pregnant during the diagnosis).

The truly inspiring part of this exchange is that even when we have very little information on a new recipient, and the scarf selection is essentially random, often the result doesn’t seem random at all. For example, I once met a woman at a conference who needed a Hope Scarf, and I just grabbed one out of the collection we had with us. When she opened it, she burst into tears. It had roses on it, which reminded her of her mother and grandmother, who were rose gardeners and who had faced cancer before. She certainly got the right Hope Scarf.

Rethinking Hope

For me, this journey is ongoing. After almost 7 years in remission, I face cancer again. I was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer in January 2014.

My new diagnosis prompted all of us at Hope Scarves to rethink our mission, and the way we support the people we serve. The Hope Scarves Metastatic Breast Cancer Research Fund was started in 2015, because we recognized that funding research is the surest way to make our shared hope for a cure come true.

We also started talking about hope in a new way. Hope was participating in my fourth Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon since receiving my new diagnosis. It’s about seeing my son become a tween. It’s about spending a wonderful day this spring in a Story-A-Thon, when we successfully collected 100 new stories of hope from men and women, many of whom had once needed a hopeful story themselves.

I started Hope Scarves to spread hope. Today, I hold onto it more than ever.

Get Involved with Hope Scarves

Hope Scarves can be shared in 3 ways:

  1. Personal: Request a scarf for yourself if you are facing cancer
  2. Gift: Send a Hope Scarf as a gift to someone you know facing cancer
  3. Partnership: Hope Scarves are shared directly with patients at more than 17 hospital partnership locations around the country.

Call to Action

  • Start a Hope Scarves program for your hospital
  • Request a Hope Scarf for yourself or for someone you know who is facing cancer
  • Share your story and scarves with Hope Scarves
  • Host a Hope Scarf drive
  • Become an Ambassador and spread the word about Hope Scarves in your community
  • E-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to get involved.

Patient Resources

Hope Scarves

Young Survivorship Coalition

Recommended For You
Patient StoriesSurvivorship
A New Perspective on Life
By Ronda M. Walker
Ronda M. Walker struggled to maintain a sense of normalcy as she fought breast cancer. This experience taught her to live in the moment and reminded her that life is short, and tomorrow is not promised.
The Survivorship Guide to Empowered Living: The 5 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Started Treatment
By Gina Shay-Zapien, APRN, CNS
Survivorship starts at diagnosis. Here are the lessons learned by Gina, a nurse and cancer survivor, on how to live an empowered survivorship.
Defying the Odds: How I’ve Survived a Male-Dominated Terminal Cancer for 7 Years
By Emily Ward, RN
Emily Ward was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a type of cancer usually associated with men who are exposed to asbestos. After working as a nurse for more than 40 years, her surprising diagnosis led to a search for the best care possible.
Difficult Conversations: What to Expect When You Share the News of Your Diagnosis
By Carolyn Byrd, RN-BSN, CBCN
Sharing the news of a diagnosis with your family, friends, and coworkers is hard. But you have total control over how and when these conversations take place. Here’s a guide of what to expect.
Last modified: January 3, 2019

Subscribe to CONQUER: the patient voice magazine

Receive timely cancer news & updates, patient stories, and more.