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Losing income to illness, Gainesville resident gets resourceful
Craft helps taker her mind off cancer
Kelsey Trusty, 22, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in late October. Trusty started making t-shirt scarves to occupy her time, but quickly turned the hobby into a money-making venture. She has used the extra money to offset the cost of her treatment. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The last few holidays have brought interesting changes to Kelsey’s Trusty’s life.

It began with a mystery illness on Halloween, which led to a Thanksgiving craft project that has blossomed into a new business venture for the new year.

On Oct. 31, after working her overnight shift as an emergency room assistant at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, Trusty readied herself for class. The day seemed normal at first, but once she reached North Georgia College & State University’s satellite campus in Gainesville, she started to feel off.

"That morning in class I started to feel really sick. My heart was racing, I was dizzy and felt so weak. Even though I was just a first semester nursing student, I knew enough to know something wasn’t right," said Trusty, a 22-year-old Gainesville resident.

"My mom’s a nurse, so I went to her office and she kind of assessed me. One thing lead to another and my primary care physician fit me right in. When I got to her office, she was like, ‘You’re never sick.’ She did some labs and basic blood tests and told me the results would be ready that afternoon."

A few hours later, her parents received a call saying Trusty’s lab work results were abnormal. They were given instructions to bring her directly to the place she’d left only a few hours earlier — the emergency room.

"I have a history of thyroid issues and it can make your heart race, so I was thinking it was just something with that," Trusty said.

"I thought maybe it’s time for them to take my thyroid out. I thought it would be a simple surgery and that would be it."

Upon reaching the hospital, she was admitted immediately and told that she would have a bone marrow biopsy the next morning. The biopsy confirmed her doctors’ suspicions. She had cancer, acute myeloid leukemia to be exact.

"I was in great hands from the very beginning. It was truly a blessing. The type of leukemia that I have can be very lethal very quickly. With them catching it so quickly, it has really helped with my treatment," Trusty said.

"They think I had it for about a month or so. Looking back, I remember I would play with my boxer puppy and would wake up with these awful bruises. Apparently that was probably one of the first signs.

"When you have leukemia, it’s a blood cancer. It affects your body’s ability to create platelets and red blood cells. The platelets are what help you clot off and not bruise. Now it all makes sense, but you just don’t think about things like that unless you’re a hypochondriac."

What she did think about was what she would do while recovering from chemotherapy treatments.

"We knew that I couldn’t work in the ER around so many sick people while I’m in treatment, so my mom and I were looking for something I could do to keep me occupied. I’m a busybody; I can’t sit and do nothing," Trusty said.

After looking online at various craft projects, Trusty and her mom stumbled across the idea of creating scarves from old T-shirts. They cut up a few T-shirts, revamped the original idea they found online and the rest has been history.

"I started making the scarves two days after Thanksgiving," Trusty said.

"When I finished, I posted a picture of one on Facebook to show my friends what I did. Within five minutes, I had my first order. Within that night, I probably had my first 50 orders and it kept growing."

So far, she’s made more than 150 scarves. Many of those orders were Christmas gifts, but even with the holiday behind us, requests haven’t slowed yet.

"I have more than 200 scarves on a waiting list because I had to stop taking orders when I went into the hospital for my chemotherapy treatment," Trusty said.

"Once I went into the hospital, I had to get on a scarf-making hiatus because I couldn’t make them in the there. I could do some of the stitching for the logos, but I couldn’t physically put them together.

"Even after I posted on Facebook that I was taking a hiatus, I had people sending me messages saying they wanted to be on the waiting list.

"I just thought this was going to be something that I’ll do for fun, but it has really spread like wildfire."

Although she didn’t plan it this way, the disease that ultimately robbed her of her source of income has given her another one. Every $10 or $12 order she completes represents a medical bill paid.

"Every time you go to the doctor, there’s a co-pay. Seven scarves pays for one co-pay," Trusty said. "People just don’t know how much it has helped already."

As Trusty’s venture grows, so have her list of helpers.

"My mom, my best friend, my fiance and my dad all help. My fiance isn’t allowed to braid though," she said

"He and my dad will cut up the T-shirts and get it ready for us, so when we get an order, we can go to our bank of material and get what we need."

On average, the crafty team makes about 10 scarves per day, but there have been times when they’ve cranked out up to 40 in one afternoon.

Each scarf is adorned with her hand-stitched logo — an orange leukemia awareness ribbon modified with a few blue threads to create a "K" for Kelsey.

"I’m really into packaging," Trusty said. "I also include a tag that has my favorite Bible verse. It says, ‘God is able to do immeasurably more than you could ask or imagine.’"

Although sales are booming, Trusty says she isn’t quite ready to label her venture a full-fledged business yet. And she has yet to decide on a name.

"I don’t want to just name it Kelsey’s Designs or something like that because I want it to have meaning," Trusty said.

"I thought about a Greek version of faith, hope or courage; but nothing has stuck yet though."

In the meantime, folks can find her through Facebook.

"I don’t have a scarf page yet, they can just find me through my personal page. I’m easy to find these days because I have a bald head. I don’t look like too many other people," Trusty said with a laugh.

She and her team currently offer four different styles and are more than happy to create custom-color combinations. They use shirts they find in thrift stores, or purchase new ones if they need a specific color.

"The long braided one is the most popular. We also do a looped style, infinity scarves and a short braided one," Trusty said.

"Sometimes the ideas just pop in our heads. One night, I was asleep and I woke up and said, ‘I can make flowers.’ So I came in the kitchen and started playing around and I did. The flowers are a new thing, though. We haven’t unveiled them officially yet."

With only the existing styles, between hand-delivering local orders and shipping the rest, keeping up with demand is already proving to be a challenge for the new year.

"Every night, I do a packing slip for myself with the next day’s deliveries. I have to have a super organized system," Trusty said.

"I go to the bank these days and the post office on these days. It keeps me so busy.

"It’s like a full-time job, which is nice because I don’t think it’s good to just lay around on the couch and think about having cancer.

"This is something fun to do while I’m getting better."