A knitter would know this move: you've started a lovely bit of work with a yarn you really like, and then when you look at it, you realize it's all wrong. You put down the work and the skein and the needles for a while because pulling out all that work can break a tender heart. If you've got a little merry-go-round type thingy and can use it to unravel, the whole process becomes a little game, or else a secular homage to the prayers of a Buddhist monk.

I spent a morning doing just that thing, with three skeins worth of Lion Brand Homespun. It was a morning my dad and I call Day 433, which was dad's idea in the first place. To save all the trouble of counting backwards, 433 days ago was January 11, 2004, and that was the day I woke up and heard "It's not good news... it's cancer."

Now, because I seldom do things the way people would expect, I got my cancer in my colon, and I did not arrange for the type that contains itself nicely, and I did not catch it early, and I am not nearly old enough for it. At the Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center, I was known simply as "that young woman." Alternatively, I was known as "the one with the smile," and "the girl who knits."

With cotton/poly microspun just the right shade of off-white and size seven needles, I took two weeks worth of chemo treatments to make my new nephew a new blankie. They were bamboo needles because the chemo makes your hands sensitive to cold, and metal needles are too cold. Then I started knitting a blanket for me, to wear during chemo. They keep the day room very cold to control patients' nausea.

The needles were size 13 bamboo circulars, and the yarn was thick and soft. It felt like hell, running through my fingers, but it felt nice on my arms and legs. The fibers absorbed some of the chemical smell of the place. At least, it seems that way. Perhaps I'm only imagining the smell of bleach and poison, which I only imagine makes me a little nauseous. I worked away at the parts of the blanket, spreading them over my chest and belly, and occasionally pulling out long strands of hair as I shed them in clumps. Even bamboo started to hurt my fingers, so I never finished the work. It never looked quite right anyway.

433 days later, the patches of completed blanket are unraveled and rewound into tidy globes with an end sticking out the top that pulls as smooth as milk pouring. I wind pull-skeins well, if I do say it. On day 345, or thereabouts, I learned the gentle and tedious art of the Granny Square, and just grabbed the remaining skeins of Homespun to make a blanket that would match the chaise. Until today, I wasn't conscious that I'd be pulling apart the work I got done while I patiently, smilingly endured my cool beige purgatory. Smiling on the outside; on the inside, I dreamed of taking that skein and slowly strangling the next person who mistook my colostomy bag for an unborn baby. That skein never touched the neck of a single person, but when it gets looped into a plain border for my Granny Square afghan, I imagine it'll feel nice snuggled around my neck.

And that was day 433. To review, I took apart the less-good thing I'd made during chemo, and replaced it with a better thing during the course of a normal life. I think the nurses at the Cancer Center would be happy about it, if I saw them to tell them, and if they recognized me with eyebrows.