02:58 - Source: CNN
Fighting cancer with craft

Story highlights

Kelsey Trusty started braiding scarves out of T-shirts during hospital stay

After posting a picture of a scarf on Facebook, she was flooded with requests

Profits from scarves help Trusty pay for out-of-pocket expenses related to treatment

"No one ever expects to be paying for a wedding and chemotherapy," she says

Gainesville, Georgia CNN —  

Kelsey Trusty plans almost everything, but getting cancer was one thing she didn’t anticipate.

Yet what began as an unexpected health crisis has led to an untapped source of creativity that helps her pay for treatment.

In October 2011, the 22-year-old nursing student from Gainesville, Georgia, was in the middle of her first year of nursing school, a job at a hospital and organizing her wedding when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

In the blink of an eye, Trusty made the transition from physician-in-training to patient. She began a month-long hospital stay to receive chemotherapy and blood transfusions.

“I was in the hospital with quite a bit of time on my hands,” Trusty said. “I’m not the kind of person who can just sit and watch TV all day. I needed something to do to keep me sane.”

Inspired by a post her mother saw on Pinterest, Trusty began braiding scarves out of old T-shirts. After perfecting her method, she shared her work on Facebook, thinking maybe a few people would want one.

Much to her surprise, demand was instant. After her diagnosis, she had to quit school because her treatment included extended hospital stays. But soon enough, she found she had nearly a full-time job filling scarf orders.

Kelsey Trusty was studying to be a nurse when she was diagnosed with leukemia.
Wes Little/CNN
Kelsey Trusty was studying to be a nurse when she was diagnosed with leukemia.

The scarves come in a variety of styles and sizes, and customers can choose the colors. Trusty makes the scarves by cutting strips of T-shirt material and braiding them together. Sometimes, her hands tremble from chemotherapy as she adds a hand-stitched logo featuring the leukemia awareness ribbon.

“It went from zero to 60 very quickly,” she said. “I think it really appealed to people being able to customize them.”

Trusty set about branding her product, naming her budding business “Tussle” in a nod to her battle with leukemia. Her best friend created a logo and she set up a Facebook page for the business. She even has her own shipping labels, “And that made me feel really fancy,” she said.

Profits from the scarves have had a tremendous impact on her out-of-pocket medical expenses, she said, covering co-payments for doctor’s visits and subsidizing the cost of cancer treatment. Meanwhile, she’s still getting ready for her wedding in July.

“No one ever expects to be paying for a wedding and chemotherapy at the same time,” she said. “It’s an incredible burden lifted off my shoulders and my family’s shoulders.”

In addition to the positive financial impact, Trusty is also using her creativity to help other cancer patients. Last month, Trusty auctioned off one of her scarves, donating the proceeds to another cancer patient.

Trusty started making scarves from T-shirts to alleviate the boredom of chemotherapy.
Wes Little/CNN
Trusty started making scarves from T-shirts to alleviate the boredom of chemotherapy.

“It’s nice to be able to use something that’s helped me to help other people as well,” Trusty said. “I’m a people-pleaser by nature, so it helps me stay positive when I see other people happy as well.”

She has shipped scarves all over the country and as far away as England. One of the best things about the experience has been meeting new people in her community and beyond and sharing stories with them, she said.

“I make scarves mainly for people who I’ve never met before,” she said. “And so it’s been a really cool way for me to meet people in my community and get to know people who I probably never would have gotten the chance to meet before.”

She is unsure of what her future holds after treatment, but the experience has given her an appreciation for the unpredictability of life and the value of every day.

“Right now, I don’t know what the plan is for me, and that’s scary,” she said. “But my God tells me, and my experience tells me, that I don’t need to worry about planning the next step.”