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100 Days, 100 Voices

‘The Hardest Thing When I Got My Diagnosis Was to Call Our Two Daughters’

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If anyone sees the barn quilt and it reminds anyone, ‘I need to get a cancer check up,’ then it’s worth every penny.

Dorothy Larew: In 2001 I discovered I had breast cancer. It was actually the week after our younger daughter got married. I had no idea. It was a routine mammogram, which I had kept putting off and I said, ‘Ok I’ll get it done.’

The hardest thing when I got my diagnosis was to call our two daughters because my husband’s mother had had breast cancer and now it’s hitting from both sides.

I came home. I thought about it. I prayed about it and said, ‘How am I going to do this?’ I don’t want to scare them, but they need to know. And so I called. Yes, we cried some, but it was a caring type of crying because we cared so much for each other. I felt so good when I knew Peggy, the younger, had already had a mammogram. And then when Ruth said, ‘Mom, I’ll do that.’

With that big white space down there on the barn, I thought that’s a good place for a barn quilt. I started thinking of the pattern, kind of mulling it over. What do I want? There’s the Dresden Plate that I like. There are others, but then I thought, ‘No, do that with the breast cancer symbol because it will draw attention,’ not attention to me, but attention to the need.

Everyone has so many activities. They are running from one place to another trying to get things done and trying to put food on the table, trying to do things in their church and their community. With many women, they are so involved in doing things for other people that they ignore themselves.

When the artist put the two shades of pink for older and younger I said, ‘I want to go teal blue for cervical cancer and dark blue for men with breast cancer.’ That’s where we got that. I wanted something with straight lines, so that the curve of the ribbon would show up better. And so we use the King’s Crown background, which is a traditional Appalachian quilt pattern.

If anyone sees the barn quilt and it reminds anyone, ‘I need to get a cancer check up,’ then it’s worth every penny.

Dorothy “Dottie” Larew, 82, is a retired social worker and former case manager at the women’s prison in Alderson. Since her diagnosis with breast cancer, Larew has volunteered with the Monroe County WV Cancer Awareness Team that does outreach and educational programs, including painting parking lot lines pink to help draw awareness to cancer. Larew lives with her husband, Charles Larew, 82, in the Hans Creek Valley of Monroe County, West Virginia.

The eight-foot square quilt was designed and painted by artist and neighbor Jim Clewell.

Dorothy Larew of Monroe County, West Virginia, commissioned this barn quilt to remind people to have their cancer screenings.


In ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ Nancy Andrews presents photographs depicting the diversity of voices across Appalachia. These portraits strive to show the varied faces, passions, issues and opinions from around the region. These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. If you have an idea for ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ please contact Nancy Andrews on Twitter @NancyAndrews or email at nancy.andrews [at] mail.wvu.edu. Follow her on Instagram @NancyAndrews.