Midlands senior battling second cancer diagnosis knits scarves for the homeless

Midlands senior battling second cancer diagnosis knits scarves for the homeless

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - If you thought you couldn't teach an old dog new tricks, think again.

A Midlands senior not only picked up a new trick, but she's putting it down in a place for everyone to see.

"I don't do anything but knit it seems lately," 62-year-old Jan Mathias said.

Inside a cozy den in the quiet retirement community of The Village at Southlake in Lexington County, Mathias is busy – knitting one row at a time. She performs the same stitch over and over as she makes the same piece of clothing - over and over.

"Five o'clock in the morning I start knitting," Mathias said. "And then I come up for breakfast... and then I knit some more."

Mathias solely knits scarves. She learned how to knit just this past August when a friend offered to teach her. Mathias can now knit 6-7 scarves a month and sometimes two per week. But two per week she says is "pushing it."

"I should have brought my practice piece up here," Mathias joked. "It was a real work of art."

Knitting is already not an easy task – it takes practice, mistakes and a little trial and error. So, imagine if you had to do all that without the use of two of your fingers."

"Two on each hand are paralyzed," Mathias said as she looked at her hands. "And it just wouldn't hold a crochet needle, so she said let's try knitting and found out I could do that."

Mathias thought she needed something to do after doctors found a lesion on one of her lungs – they initially thought it was lung cancer. She figured she would knit while going through chemo.

She avoided the lung cancer diagnosis, but she's no stranger to illness. An accident and multiple shattered vertebrae almost paralyzed her in the late 90's. In 2008 she had brain surgery, and in 2012 she overcame breast cancer. To say she's a tough cookie is an understatement.

"The good Lord has gotten me through everything," Mathias said. "He's blessed me so often and yet I wasn't paying that much attention to him."

But, Mathias said she's paying attention now. WIS followed her to her once-a-month trip to downtown Columbia's Main Street.

"I could kick myself in the hiney because I didn't start it earlier. I've been cold and I don't want anyone else to be like that."

While one person doesn't need 6-7 scarves a month, there's a tree right outside the Mast General Store that can hold more scarves than one Jan Mathias can wear.

"Looks like everyone else has been getting into it," Mathias said as she looked proudly at the tree. "We're going to have some warm homeless people this year."

A small sign reads: "Take one if you need it, leave one if you can." Mathias has been on both sides of that message.

"I was homeless for about two months," Mathias said. "I know it's not very long but it was enough to wake me up and think this is not cool."

She knows all too well how it feels to be unbearably cold.

"The cold is just...I know my ears were hurting so bad that it would make me cry."

As she spoke to WIS, she knitted comfortably in her warm community center at the Village at Southlake. She knows this week's work will lay on someone else's shoulders on a cold night ahead."

"I feel like I need to help. To return it to other people to let them know not to lose faith in this world," Mathias said. "The world is cold right now - literally and physically - and people need to be able to turn somewhere for help."

Mathias is currently preparing for a surgery on Nov. 15 to remove her thyroid – doctors diagnosed her with thyroid cancer. She's not the only party putting scarves and hats on the tree downtown, many others are taking part – and she encourages everyone to get involved.

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