WHEN ABBY EHRLER FINISHED TREATMENT for thyroid cancer, her next step felt obvious. “I know what it’s like to be in that really hard, dark time, and I want to be able to help other kids,” says the 16-year-old from Galena, Illinois.

Ehrler has been cancer-free since having surgery to remove her thyroid in 2018 when she was 12 years old. With her time in the hospital behind her, she has focused on improving that experience for other children by starting Abby’s Blankets of Strength, which provides fleece tie blankets to children and young adults with cancer and other serious health issues. 

Girl, You’ve Got This

Among the hundreds of blankets Abby Ehrler has made to date, her favorite is a blue blanket with “Girl, You’ve Got This!!” spelled out in colorful letters. “It’s always been one of the quotes I’ve liked throughout my cancer journey,” she says. “I like giving the blankets that I know I would want to receive.”

Ehrler decided blankets could offer comfort to all patients—no matter their age or condition. In 2019, she made and donated 25 blankets to the hospital where she had her surgery. She ramped up efforts the following year and formed her nonprofit organization, which has now distributed more than 300 blankets.

Ehrler purchases the felt materials, cuts strips in the sides and ties them together to make the completed blanket, which then goes in a bag with a handmade card. From there, she either delivers them to a local hospital or mails them out to children’s homes. Requests come in via the Abby’s Blankets of Strength Facebook page. So far, she has shipped blankets to 20 different states.

Ripple Effect

Abby Ehrler empowers others to support children with cancer.

Although Abby Ehrler makes most of the blankets for Abby’s Blankets of Strength by herself (with some assistance from family members), she’s now empowering others to provide the gift of support. The teenager has attended meetings of local Girl Scout troops, 4-H organizations and high school key clubs, teaching members how to make their own blankets. “It’s just a lot of fun to see other people wanting to help too,” she says.

Giving blankets to people with similar health struggles across the country has had an additional benefit: “I live in such a small town that there’s nobody else here, no other kid my age with cancer right now, so it’s really cool when I get to meet other people like me,” she says. The recipients often send her messages thanking her and letting her know the blanket made a trip to the ER or a hospital stay easier. “It’s just something to give them a little bit of extra strength and comfort, and I think that’s the most important thing,” Ehrler says.

Thomas Celona is an associate editor for Cancer Today.