PITTSBURG — Women who have undergone a mastectomy or double mastectomy can receive a free ‘huggable’ prosthesis, Knitted Knockers.
When a woman has breast cancer the typical prosthesis is made out of silicone. If they do not have insurance the prosthesis can be expensive, costing upwards of $680 each.
“They are hot, they are heavy, they don’t ‘breathe’ and you have to have a special bra and because they are silicone they make you sweat and you get a rash,” local knitter Lois Baima said.
Baima said breast cancer affects one out of every eight women in their lifetime and each year there are approximately 50,000 mastectomies in the United States.
Women who have had a mastectomy go through many difficult changes, and are in need of hugs from family and friends, Baima said. However, many women quit hugging.
“The one time in their life they need emotional support and they need to be hugged, a lot of them quit hugging,” she said. “The reason they quit hugging is because they have a scar on their chest that hurts. But with our Knitted Knockers they are nice soft padding.”
She said the silicone prosthesis do not feel natural to many women and they may refuse hugs.
“One lady, when I gave her the knockers she said ‘now I can go back to church,” Baima said. “She quit going to church because they would hug her and she didn’t want them to.”
Biama has never battled cancer, but she hears survivors and their families’ stories when they order or pick up their Knitted Knockers.
“They tell you these sad stories and you just cry and cry, but once they get their Knocker and get the feel of it — some put it in right then and there — they say ‘it feels so natural and it’s soft and light-weight.”
When one woman picked up her Knitted Knockers from Biama, she confided in her that she had not told her husband that yet again, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
A father asked for a Knitted Knocker for his daughter, whom he only wished to hug again.
“They had been really close, but she had quit hugging him after she had a mastectomy and he wanted some for his daughter because he missed hugging her and wanted to hug her,” Biama said.
“Could you imagine going through physical pain, unknown financials and then you don’t want to hug anybody?
“Then somebody comes to you and says ‘oh I love you so much I’m sorry you got cancer’ and then you don’t want to get hugged.”
When women receive their knockers, Baima said, many get excited. Biama said she had made yellow knockers which she calls the “golden knockers” and a lady excitedly rejoiced and repetitively said, “I’ve got golden knockers!”
“It differs between each woman,” she said. “Being so down emotionally and physically — chemotherapy is not fun and then all of a sudden some stranger is doing something nice for you.”
Biama also makes Knitted Knockers which match the holiday seasons.
And they are all free.
Baima said she’s “just a knitter,” a hobby she was taught by her mother. She found out about Knitted Knockers from an article and from there she visited the Knitted Knockers website.
“I wanted to do something that would help somebody,” she said.
The founder of Knitted Knockers, Barbara Demorest, was not a candidate for surgery after undergoing a mastectomy so her doctor recommended for her to knit a prosthesis breast. “She had this pattern for knitted breast prosthesis and Knitted Knockers began,” Biama said.
The organization is a 501(c)3 and has over 500 groups registered in 50 states and 25 countries, ran by volunteers like Baima. The patterns for the prosthesis have been downloaded over 1 million times. Demorest did not invent knitted knockers “but rather approached the young woman in Maine who had named them after making some for herself,” the Knitted Knockers website said.
Knitted Knockers is also an international organization and it has recently adopted Sri Lanka and Rwanda as places to send prosthesis.
“Rwanda does not do reconstructive surgery,” Baima said. “They do not have the facilities for it and a lot of these third-world countries, if a woman has cancer or has a breast removed they are ostracized and so this way they can look like other women again.”
Biama said the knockers are washable and made out of a special cotton which is breathable. They contain a premium filling and the knockers are adjustable to fit the woman’s needs.
“They are made out of a special pure cotton, they’re non-abrasive and they’re soft,” she said.
She said a surgeon had recommended the use of a knitted knocker after surgery to push against the skin to prevent swelling.
Baima said women battling breast cancer are facing a “tremendous amount of expenses.” She said if they have “good insurance” they may only have to pay $5,000 and if not, people may have to resort to selling their homes.
This is one of the many reasons the prosthesis is free.
People can order a “huggable prosthesis” by contacting Baima at 620-704-0236. People can also become a volunteer by visiting www.knittedknockers.org.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.