Crafty comfort for breast-cancer survivors

South Surrey seniors making ‘knitted knockers’ for women who have had mastectomies

Dorothy Filsinger

Florence Brownridge knows you don’t have to look very far to find someone who has been affected by breast cancer.

The South Surrey resident said it’s rare for a week to go by without learning an old acquaintance, a friend of a friend or a family member has been diagnosed with, or treated for the disease.

So when Brownridge came across a story in 2014 about a woman in Bellingham making knitted prostheses for women who had undergone mastectomies, she was inspired to follow suit.

“I can’t do a lot, but I can knit, and I knew I could find some other knitters, so I phoned her,” Brownridge said.

She was given a pattern for the prostheses – dubbed ‘knitted knockers’ by the founding crafter, a Maine woman who herself underwent a mastectomy – and rounded up fellow knitters Thelma Kilburn and Dorothy Filsinger.

Since they first began making the knitted knockers a year-and-a-half ago, the group has grown to six knitters, who have made and donated “hundreds” of the prostheses.

Recipients have included patients at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Vancouver, Richmond Hospital, the BC Cancer Centre and a local breast-cancer support group that meets at Crescent Gardens Retirement Community.

The response, according to the knitters, has been “very positive.”

“It can cost around $400 for breast prostheses, and they can’t be worn for up to six weeks after surgery,” Browndridge said of traditional medical devices often used by women post-mastectomy.

“We have been told that they are heavy, warm and uncomfortable. Whereas these aren’t.”

Filsinger, who herself underwent a lumpectomy and radiation six years ago after a breast-cancer diagnosis, recently returned from Mexico where she delivered a pair to an acquaintance.

“She was thrilled with them,” Filsinger said. “They were likely to start a knitting group of their own down there.”

The ‘knockers’ are made from high-quality cotton yarn and filled with polyester fibre fill, which can be added or removed to attain the desired firmness.

Each one takes about two hours to make, depending on the speed of the knitter and the size – the pattern ranges from A cup to E cup.

They are generally made with pastel-coloured yarn – however, the group has filled special colour requests in the past – and are also hand-washable.

Though the local group is one of only a handful in the Lower Mainland, the ‘knitted knocker’ movement has gained plenty of support around the world, Brownridge said, noting groups have been formed as far away as Australia, Cambodia, Finland and Singapore.

The group’s Bellingham counterparts have made and distributed more than 5,000 since its inception, and the online pattern for the knockers has been downloaded more than 65,000 times over the past two years.

While the group has had no trouble recruiting knitters to help with the cause, they are now trying to get the word out to the women who may benefit from a pair of knitted knockers.

“It’s getting the word out to people,” Kilburn said.

“Because once people get them, they’re thrilled.”

The women are appealing to friends, family members, colleagues and medical professionals to help spread the word about the knockers.

Requests for a free pair – the group won’t charge money for the knockers, but would welcome donations to help pay for the wool – can be emailed to thelmakilburn@shaw.ca

In the meantime, the group will keep knitting away, motivated by the grateful response they’ve received, including one woman who said they’re providing a “huge mental and physical boost to people at a very vulnerable time in their lives.”

“When you hear something like that, you feel that you’re doing something worthwhile,” Brownridge said.

To find out more about the international ‘knitted knocker’ efforts, to download a pattern or to watch a tutorial, visit www.knittedknockers.org

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