achievement unlocked: “fuck cancer” cross stitch

I am still deep into my newfound cross stitch obsession. Here’s a sampler I finished last week:


It’s pretty thematic for me right now, as I am dealing with cancer. My first surgery is next week, assuming that I am able to maintain my health between now & then. I’m STILL not over the infection I got back in October, though I am on another round of antibiotics & have been prescribed an inhaler that helps a lot. Of course it’s cold & flu season, & I have a child in preschool, & the cancer is compromising my immune system to a certain degree, so…I am also fighting off a cold. The oncologist wants me to be completely asymptomatic for 14 days prior to surgery, since they will be using general anesthesia. I’m kind of like, “Um, I have a four-year-old, I don’t think I am staring down the barrel of two weeks of perfect health for at least another five years or so.”

Anyway, the next surgery is for diagnostic/staging purposes, to see how invasive this whole thing is. I will also mention that a friend set up a YouCaring fundraiser for us, which was really sweet & thoughtful of her. We don’t have any family in Kansas, & although local friends have offered to pitch in with child care & meals, we could really use all the help we could get. So here’s the link, in case anyone reading this wishes to contribute (no pressure):

So! The cross stitch! I wouldn’t call this an “original design,” but I did do my own thing with it. I took a flower motif that I liked & uploaded it to an image editing program. I removed the text & substituted my own. Then I ran the edited image through an online program that converts images to cross stitch patterns. It lets you set your own options as far as cloth count, size of the finished image, how many colors you want to use, etc. (More colors means more detail, but also more difficulty.) I used 16-count Aida & around thirty colors. The finished image is around 8″ by 7″. I wish I could tell you how many hours it took. At least forty. I don’t know if this is typical or if I am a really slow cross stitcher. I do know that I am blazing through A LOT of podcasts while I stitch.

I stitched this guy one color at a time, & took a photo after each new color was added. I wanted to convert the images into a moving image, like an online flipbook, but I am pretty technologically incompetent (last week I learned that there’s a strip of plastic film you have to remove from your toner cartridge before you put it in the printer–who knew?) & couldn’t figure out how to do it. So…time for a photo dump!

& yes, I have already started my third project, which is very slow-going. It’s a portrait of Ramona, & employs 75 colors. Jared made the excellent point that I shouldn’t rush the project, since I will just want to start another one immediately. He’s not wrong.

Speaking of Ramona, she turned four last week.


Here she is as a newborn. Look how tiny she is, compared to the nurse’s hand! For anyone who doesn’t know, she was born two months premature because I developed severe pre-eclampsia. She was pretty big for her gestational age: 17 inches & 4 pounds, 11 ounces. But obviously that’s pretty small compared to a full-term baby. She was in the NICU for a month.


& here she is on her fourth birthday! She is now forty inches tall & weighs 42 pounds–bigger than most girls her age! She can do basic math (on her birthday, she kept telling people that she was 22 because “22 is two 2s & two plus two is four!”) & is constantly asking us how things are spelled. She can ride a two-wheeled bike & loves to play soccer, basketball, & T-ball. She has recently had tantrums because she wanted salad with dinner & we were out of lettuce, & because her cruel father took her to the toy store instead of the library. What a monster.

& in case you are looking for some good stories about cancer treatment, I have a few. I had to go to the Cancer Center last week for my pre-op appointment with anesthesiology. During the health history portion of events, the nurse asked me, “Have you ever been diagnosed with cancer?” I just wordlessly gestured around at the fact that we were sitting in a CANCER CENTER.

Anesthesiology wanted me to follow-up with my primary care doctor regarding this lingering infection situation. It’s worth mentioning that I get my insurance through Medicare, due to disability. I am 37 years old & I like to imagine I perhaps look a bit younger than my years. At doctor appointments, they have to make a note of why a person is receiving Medicare: age, disability, or renal failure. I think those are the three options (though wouldn’t renal failure qualify as a disability, no matter how old you were?). On this day, the receptionist looked me straight in the eye & said, “& you’re on disability due to age?” No shade on my 60+ friends, but I do have a couple of decades before I join you there. So that was fun.

I’m also having to introduce myself to a lot of new people (doctors, nurses, receptionists, etc) & all of them are like, “Ciara Xyerra? Your name rhymes?” (It’s pronounced See-air-uh Zee-air-uh.) & I’m like, “Yeah.” & they ask if that is really what my parents named me, & I have to confess that I changed it myself when I was 25 (Ciara is my given first name, but I changed my middle & last names), without stopping to consider that I may someday have to get cancer treatments with ridiculous rhyming name.

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

6 thoughts on “achievement unlocked: “fuck cancer” cross stitch

  1. I’m so behind in reading blogs. Too much political reading to do right now! I must confess that I’ve always thought your parents must be pretty rockin’ to have named you that, but I also think it’s pretty rockin’ to change your name.

    Knitting is my super slow craft, and while I would love to try cross-stitch, it will have to wait until I’m done with my dissertation because I already feel like I have too much going on that I’ll never finish. I can’t wait to see your portrait of Ramona! My aunt used to do cross stitch, and she would make beautiful things with tons of colors in them, and those were always my favorite.

    I hope the next surgery goes well (and that they let you get it despite the illness!).

    1. Well, my parents did name me Ciara. That spelling & everything. Apparently I dodged a bullet because they had been planning to name me Remembrance Broadway. WHAT. But right before I was born, my mom was reading the obituaries in the newspaper, & an old woman named Ciara had died. She said, “I thought it was pretty, & hey, she wasn’t using it anymore!” The old woman in question was probably Irish & probably used a Gaelic pronunciation (sounds like “Kira”), but my mom didn’t know that so she went with the Sierra-style pronunciation. Which no one ever ever EVER got right on the first try until Ciara the pop singer came along.

      I think cross stitching is the jam I had hoped knitting would be. Not that I am closing the door on knitting forever, but cross stitch is a lot more affordable, & it’s coming a lot more easily to me than knitting has. I think if I want to get real about knitting, I’m going to have to take a class.

  2. Ciara, love the fighting spirit of your cross stitch. I’m so glad you found a creative outlet that works under the circumstance. Beautiful work.
    Your girl is gorgeous. I think you should consider doing something with that picture, she looks like a renaissance painting. I went from cross stitch to needlepoint. It was before programs so I would overlay a clear sheet with grid patterns on an enlarged photocopy. Must be much easier now! 🙂 Best Wishes!
    Merry P.

    1. Thank you! I am thrilled to have found cross stitch when I did. I’m sure my partner grits his teeth a bit when he sees me get out my floss box, because that is a sure sign that I am checking out for the next few hours, but it has really kept me sane since the diagnosis.

      I think the photo I posted here is going to be the one I use for her fourth birthday cross stitch portrait. I took some other photos of her that day, but I’m curious to see how this one will look in the cross stitch medium. It’s more of a close-up than the photos I’m planning to use for the other years.

  3. I am in awe of your cross stitch skills! I’ve been doing some embroidery, but I like to think that my slightly uneven stitching looks like a design choice. :p

    1. I’ve experimented with embroidery in the past, & I really don’t enjoy it as much as I do cross stitch. I think it’s harder & just not as much fun (for me). Let’s be real: stitching an X is really not a major challenge, but I loooooooove it. I can certainly see how other people might think it’s tedious though, & may prefer the visual creativity that goes into embroidery.

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