Volunteer worries about cold heads

Rita Whitlock has crocheted more than 300 hats for cancer patients at Memorial Hospital
January 24th, 2017
A woman crochets hats for cancer patients.
Rita Whitlock, a longtime Colorado Springs resident and Memorial Hospital volunteer, crochets hats for cancer patients who have lost their hair.

Rita Whitlock is one of the quiet heroes at UCHealth Memorial Hospital. She is a volunteer who spends a lot of time thinking about patients who might have a cold head.

“Everyone gets cold, you know,’’ said Whitlock, a longtime Colorado Springs resident.

She crochets beautiful hats for cancer patients who have lost their hair after having chemotherapy, and she donates them to the Memorial Hospital Foundation which, in turn, delivers them to the Infusion Clinic, where they are offered to patients who choose from an array of colors.

In the past six months, Whitlock has donated 300 hats. She sits in her “woman cave’’ in the lower level of her Colorado Springs home, listens to country music, and crochets away.

“My kids and grandkids ask me what I want for Christmas, and I tell them to look for a sale on yarn,’’ she said. “They tell me, ‘Mom, that’s not for you,’ but that’s what I want.’’

Whitlock can, at any given time, tell you who is having a sale on yarn – Walmart, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby – she knows.

“I’m a person who has to be doing things, and this takes my mind off of things and if it helps someone feel better, I’m all for it,’’ she said.

Nancy Cooper, who was diagnosed with breast cancer and began losing her hair in April after undergoing chemotherapy, appreciates the hats and wears them when she goes out.

“I don’t have any shame about being bald, but there is a little bit of vanity – I’m a girl. It’s not how others see me, it’s how I see myself,” Cooper said.

She recently wore a  teal-and-white hat to an infusion appointment and  said it was heartwarming that a stranger would be so kind. This particular hat was a perfect match to her sweater, and she has enjoyed several of the Whitlock-made creations over the months.

“I found it loving and caring and quite giving,” she said of Whitlock, whom she has not met. “She gives of her time and also her finances to help others be a little bit more comfortable. It’s a fabulous option for those of us who don’t want to wear wigs.”

A stack of hats for cancer patients.
Rita Whitlock has crocheted more than 300 hats for cancer patients at Memorial Hospital. The hats rest on a shelf in the Infusion Clinic at Memorial Hospital Central

Whitlock has spent most of her life making it a habit to help others. She has visited elderly people through Silver Key, the senior services center in Colorado Springs. She’s volunteered in churches and schools, and when one of her friends goes into the hospital, she cooks for their husbands.

“One guy, he called me the ‘Pikes Peak Angel’ because I make meals for the husbands when their wives go in the hospital,’’ Whitlock said.

She started to make hats when she heard of the need for them via her teammates at a local bowling alley. And since then, she’s been crocheting a couple a day.

Whitlock said that she was poor growing up in Maine.

“We never had nothing. A lot of our stuff came from the Salvation Army. My parents worked, but they didn’t make much money,’’ Whitlock said.

Knowing that her hats are bringing joy to patients at Memorial has been rewarding for her.

“I’ve always enjoyed doing stuff for others. There’s always someone who needs a little something,’’ she said.

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.