Debra Chandler didn’t know the lady handing out the pink Breast Cancer Awareness symbols in downtown Newark.
But Chandler, a 14-year survivor, and others participating in the annual breast cancer walkk were moved to hug Brenda Bayley when they learned what she had done to honor cancer survivors and those who have lost their lives to the disease.
Breast cancer walkers were grateful when they saw Bayley with the ribbons standing in front of Old First Presbyterian Church, a historical landmark where her roots run deep.
With nimble fingers (of undisclosed age) and a knack for making anything, Bayley spent the past 10 months crocheting the 6,000 symbols in the shape of a ribbon that she handed out. The Hillside resident never had cancer, nor does anyone in her family, including her eight siblings.
Who makes 6,000 of anything for people they don’t know? “I just wanted to help,” Bayley said. That’s it. Nothing more, except kindness and lots of yarn, purchased with her own money.
She’s been the secretary/administrative assistant for 30 years and a member for 40 years at the Broad Street church. Bayley, who also cooks for church functions, gave herself plenty of time to pull off this massive project.
She started in January, crocheting about 500 a month or 17 or more a day. By September, she’d passed her goal of making 5,000. Last year, she made 1,500 for the walk and it wasn’t enough. She ran out of her ribbons this year, too.
Bayley has made blankets, curtains, clothes, socks, hats, furniture throws, her sister’s bridal dress. She continued when she came to the United States in her 20s and after graduating from a New York secretarial school in the late 1960s. Bayley still has her manual typewriter, which she uses to keep track of orders from Avon customers.
Hugs also came from Sheila Burke of Irvington, who called Bayley “wonderful” for thinking of others. Burke was walking with her daughter, Rushelle Burke, in memory of a friend, Terry McCoy, who died of cancer five years ago.
“What a fitting tribute to spend to time to bring awareness” about cancer, said Chandler, an East Orange resident.
“Cancer is not a death sentence. What she’s doing represents hope.”
And Bayley’s gesture helped to ease the hurt of Gladys Gabbidon of Newark. Cancer claimed the lives of her’s 30-year-old son, Glenroy Clive Shelton, and her 45-year-old husband, George Gabbidon. “She gives from the heart,” she said. “A lot of people need a helping hand.”
Bayley plans to extend that hand next year, too. “I don’t have a choice,” she said. “I’ll be doing it again.”
Somehow, I knew she’d say that.