HOWIE CENTRE, N.S. — Tracy Stubbard had a two per cent chance the medication she was taking for Crohn’s disease would cause cancer.
It did. Twice in three years.
“I’m not lucky enough to win the lottery but I can get cancer twice,” said the owner of Tracy’s Rolling Yarn Shop.
First diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2017, Stubbard underwent chemotherapy. At the time she was working full-time as a receptionist at a doctor’s office and part-time at Embers Restaurant.
Chemotherapy was hard on her, with severe side effects. Her mentor, Patricia Fields — the owner of Baadeck Yarns in Baddeck — suggested Stubbard come help at the shop to get out of the house.
The job at Baadeck Yarns introduced Stubbard to the knitting, crocheting and weaving community as well as “the best job” of her life; two things that helped with her second cancer battle.
NEW SHOP, CANCER RETURNS
The 49-year-old’s first battle with cancer in 2017 involved 12 rounds of chemotherapy. They started in September 2017 and ended in February 2018.
Continuing to work at Baadeck Yarns, in 2019 Stubbard purchased a large trailer to renovate into a portable yarn shop.
By 2020, Fields was talking about retiring. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and everyone was in lockdown during the first wave, Stubbard began renovating the inside of the trailer.
From laying the floors to building the shelves, Stubbard did it all. It was the first time she’d taken on a renovation project like that.
In August 2020, doctors broke the news to Stubbard that the Hodgkin lymphoma had returned and was in both sides of her neck.
Treatment this time included four rounds of chemotherapy followed by 25 rounds of radiation.
“They spaced it out (the chemotherapy) because my body doesn’t tolerate it very well,” Stubbard said.
“I was very sick. I stayed in the basement. I had no potassium, my kidneys were a mess … I threw up and threw up. It was awful.”
Around this time Fields officially retired and Stubbard pushed full steam ahead on getting Tracy’s Rolling Yarn Shop ready to hit the road.
Opening its doors in February 2021, staying locally in Dominion due to the season and temperature, Stubbard started radiation treatments in March 2021.
The treatment was extremely hard on Stubbard. Both sides of her throat were subjected to the radiation and were burned, making it difficult to eat. She lost 35 pounds.
Tracy’s Rolling Yarn Shop was more than a job at this time. It was a saving grace; a place of escape from the horrors of cancer.
“The trailer gave me something to look forward to. I’ve had some very toxic people in my life in the past. The customers in the knitting, crocheting, weaving community are a whole different kind of people,” Stubbard said. “They are just awesome. It’s refreshing. They are just good people.”
When Fields retired, Stubbard bought the majority of her stock which filled a big portion of her rolling yarn shop.
That stock is pretty much gone, replaced by new products of wool merino, alpaca, cashmere and silk yarns.
The yarn is primarily from Canadian producers and Stubbard believes all the hand-dyed products are Canadian-made.
There are two brands from Cape Breton, The Opulent Alpaca from Inverness and Frederic Gateways Dyers in Louisbourg, and another four from Nova Scotia.
There are also tools like yarn ballers (also called winders), needles and sock rulers.
The high quality of the products is what brought Howie Centre resident Jane Burns back when Tracy’s Rolling Yarn Shop was parked in her area on July 8.
“I spent quite a bit of money here last time. I won’t say how much,” she said with a laugh.
“You don’t often see (yarn) like this, of this quality. It makes a big difference in what you are knitting.”
Stubbard added, “We’ve got the cream of the crop.”
In the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, Stubbard doesn’t park in Sydney or sell the same products the local shops have. Howie Centre is the closest to downtown Sydney she’s set up shop.
She will park in Dominion and Bras d’Or, but spends most of her time on the road travelling the province.
It’s nothing for her to hit Yarmouth, Dartmouth and Antigonish all in one week. And usually, there are people lined up to get their yarn fix.
Recently in New Minas, Stubbard arrived to find the market she was scheduled to sell at was cancelled. A man from a local crochet group came to help.
“He said, ‘Girlfriend, you just leave this with me.’ And in an hour we were set up and there was a lineup of customers,” she said.
Antigonish remains one of her top spots, holding the record for highest one-day sales. Often people will message Stubbard via the Tracy’s Rolling Yarn Shop Facebook page the day after their purchases asking when she’ll be back.
Many customers become regulars. In Port Hawkesbury, the regulars brought her birthday cake and gifts when she was set up there.
“The customers are amazing. Nobody’s complaining they’re going to die before they see the doctor or you bring them their steaks,” said Stubbard.
“I haven’t met one customer I didn’t like yet. I’ve developed friendships. It’s awesome. It really is. This is the best job I’ve ever had.”
– Nicole Sullivan is a multimedia journalist with the Cape Breton Post. Follow her on Twitter @CBPostNSullivan.