Olivia Kelleher meets volunteers who create hand-made prostheses for women who’ve had mastectomies
Crocheting was just a hobby for Ann Cooke until she went out shopping one day and bumped in to her former SNA workmate, Linda Burgess, who told her that she had had a bilateral mastectomy.
Linda mentioned how uncomfortable her prostheses were and an idea was sparked in Ann’s head. She had come across “knitted knockers” online and knew that it was possible to make handmade breast prostheses.
Ann, who is based in Dublin, made up a pair of the knockers for Linda and they were both surprised at the result. “They are about one sixth the weight of a regular prosthesis. Regular prostheses are very heavy and hot and uncomfortable and people say they are dying to take them out when they get home. But they feel when they are out that they are taking away their femininity. So they end up leaving them in.”
Ann says people who wear prostheses often don’t want to even open the door to guests without them. However, they can feel heavy and wearers often say they feel weighed down by them both literally and emotionally.
“What people say when they have the knitted knockers is that you don’t have the physical weight beating down. And that weight is a constant reminder of what has happened.”
After successfully knitting the knockers for Linda the pair decided to set an Irish branch of the American organisation Knitted Knockers. The knockers are a soft, lightweight alternative to the standard gel filled prosthesis and can fit into an ordinary bra where they take on the shape of a real breast. Volunteers knit or crochet them and they are free to breast cancer patients.
Knitted Knockers Ireland was set up in 2015 when Ann contacted the American branch of the organisation and was told that there was no Irish chapter in place.
“For the first six months I was doing all the craft work myself and then in January 2016 I put out a call for volunteers. We meet once a month in Donaghmede library. Sometimes we meet every two weeks depending on demand. There has been a huge response from volunteers. Sometimes we have to ask people to stop knitting so we can catch up with the process of sending them out.”
Ann has been hugely heartened by the donations she has received which have covered materials and postage.
“The mail bags we send them out in are donated. There is a company called Royal Upholstery, a family run business in Kilbarrack, and they donate the polyfibre. I thought it would be a once off but when they heard what it was for they decided to do it all the time. A woman held a raffle to pay for the stamps forpostage. I am always happy to get donations of stamps.”
Ann sends out the pair of prostheses complete with a personal note, ribbons and two crochet hearts to symbolise “from one woman to another”. She says women are often very moved that a stranger has come to their assistance in this way.
“A lot of elderly ladies aren’t entitled to free prostheses and they are delighted to get the knitted knockers. People are thrilled that someone they didn’t know went to the trouble of making the prostheses for them. People phone us all the time to say thanks, particularly old people. I had one woman in her 90s who rang to say she was delighted that they were so comfortable. If I get a call about a woman in her nineties she goes to the top of the list. And there are women in that age group.”
Ms Cooke says she was looking to do voluntary work and that the Knitted Knockers has opened up a whole new world to her, enriching her life in numerous ways.
“We get cards from people and we put them on Facebook. It is lovely for people to see the cards and to see the level of appreciation. Everybody knows somebody with cancer. And we all feel that there is not a lot you can do for someone in the midst of it. But this is something you do. I never realised I would have so many bags of prostheses in my house but I love it! My children are all grown up and I really enjoy this.”
Knitted Knockers Ireland provides hundreds of free knockers every month to women across the country. They also provide “swimming knockers” which are filled with the mesh from a net shower puff, because it keeps its shape without absorbing the water.
More information on Knitted Knockers (Irish branch) is available at facebook.com/KnittedKnockersIreland. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Ann and Linda on 087 1673220.
Knitted Knockers patterns at knittedknockersireland.wordpress.com
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