As normal as the next woman

A local movement has started to provide knitted breast prosthetics to women.
April 3rd, 2017
Janet Slagle and Randine Nelson, both of Fort Collins are shown knitting at the Knit for a Cause Knit-A-Thon in Fort Collins.
Janet Slagle, left, of Fort Collins and Randine, Nelson, center, also of Fort Collins join about 75 other knitters at the Knit for a Cause Knit-A-Thon in Fort Collins. Each knitted knocker can take 3-4 hours to make. Photo by Kelly Tracer, UCHealth.

Deanna Scott and Kathy James have entirely different stories, but they share a common loss — as do many women who’ve had mastectomies. Through their loss, they’ve found their more defining feminine qualities — empathy and strength — and are using attributes to improve the quality of life for other women.

“You still want to go out and feel like you can hug someone,” James said. “You still want to feel like you are a woman — normal as the next one. You want to feel good about putting clothes on … and that you made the right choice.”

James’ mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 and battled it for years before she died just before the age of 55. Having gone through this, James didn’t want to put her kids through the same thing. Four years ago, she had a double prophylactic mastectomy — surgery to remove both breasts to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.

A prophylactic, or preventive, mastectomy in women who carry the breast cancer gene mutation (BRCA1 or BRCA2) can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by 95 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Scott, at age 44, started her battle with breast cancer just one week after her older sister finished radiation treatment for breast cancer. Scott had five months of chemotherapy, 30 cycles of radiation and five surgeries, including a double mastectomy — all within 15 months.

UCHealth physician Barbara Widom respiratory therapist Lori Taylor are shown working side by side on their knitted knockers at the Knit for a Cause Knit-A-Thon at Wolverine Farm Letterpress and Publick House in Fort Collins.
UCHealth physician Barbara Widom, left, and respiratory therapist Lori Taylor work side by side on their knitted knockers at the Knit for a Cause Knit-A-Thon at Wolverine Farm Letterpress and Publick House in Fort Collins. Photo by Kelly Tracer, UCHealth.

Radiation therapy had left her breasts different sizes, and because traditional breast prosthetics can’t be worn for weeks after surgery, Scott had nothing to “fill out my other side” when she returned to work. After a horrifying business meeting in which the stares were obvious, Scott’s friend made her a Knitted Knocker — a soft, comfortable homemade breast prosthesis.

Knitted Knockers is a program that promotes knitting for a cause: to create prostheses for women who’ve undergone mastectomies or other procedures to the breast. The knockers, which come in all different sizes and skin tones, and are made of quality yarn that is easy to care for and they are provided to women at no cost.

After her breast cancer diagnosis, Scott fell into a deep depression and was desperately looking for her footing again when she met Joanne Beasley, supervisor of rehabilitation services for The Wellness Place at the UCHealth Cancer Center.

“Joanne could see I was in pain and knew that I needed something to hang onto,” Scott said. “She suggested that I might want to knit these and provide them to others.”

Beasley told her about a WISH – Women Investing in Strategies for Health – grant opportunity. WISH is an affiliate of the PVH and MCR Foundation. Days after Scott’s reconstructive surgery, she and Beasley, with the support of UCHealth Cancer Care, received a $3,000 grant to help with supplies and expenses of hosting two Knitted Knockers knit-a-thons.

Meanwhile, James had also been knitting, keeping finished products in her purse so she could offer help when it was needed.

This is a photo of Deanna Scott and Kathy James, who are spearheading Knitted Knocker efforts in Colorado.
Deanna Scott, left, and Kathy James are spearheading Knitted Knocker efforts in Colorado.

“I’ve had women drop their old prosthesis in my bag and say, ‘I’ll trade you.’ That’s how great these are,” she said.

After hearing of each other’s efforts, James and Scott finally met in January – in time to put together their first knit-a-thon.

On March 4, 80 knitters of all ages and abilities came together in Fort Collins to create Knitted Knockers. The group completed 27 pairs of knockers and seven single knockers in their first meeting, and they continue to provide more knockers each day.

“It’s been an amazing wave of love,” Scott said about her journey with Knitted Knockers. “If you want to see an army at work, just call the knitting ladies.”

The team hopes to put together another knit-a-thon in May or June in Greeley since the knitting group there has offered their support. The team is looking for a donation of a venue – perhaps a restaurant – where volunteers can knit and have a meal. The remaining grant will be used to help with an October knit-a-thon in northern Colorado.

James’ hope is that Knitted Knockers will go global – much like TOMS shoes. But for now, the women are motivated to supply Knitted Knockers to the area’s cancer centers and to fill the needs of locals. Eventually, they’d like to create a network of knitters to fill the entire state’s need.

Knitted Knockers are shown in this photo.
Knitted Knockers donated to UCHealth Cancer Center.

The hope is that grassroots efforts — like the one started by James and Scott — spring up over the country so that each state can take care of their own. UCHealth’s Cancer Center hands out about two to three Knitted Knockers per week, and the demand continues to increase as more women learn about it, Scott explained. She and James mail about eight prosthetics a week in addition to those distributed by UCHealth.

“I’m meeting women who haven’t had anything for 10 years,” Scott said. “You can get away with not having breasts, but it’s not like being flat-chested.”

Knitted Knockers work well for women who enjoy exercising; knockers made of fast-drying acrylic yarn are even suitable for swimming, she said.

“You cannot tell that they are not real,” James said. “It’s about still feeling like a woman.”

Editor’s note:

Within days of this article publishing, more than 60 requests for knitted knockers have come to the group, depleting the supply they gathered at their last knit-a-thon. The group is in need of donations and knitting volunteers to continue to fill the needs of Colorado women. Email: knittedknockers@uchealth.org to help.

Want to help?

People interested in knitting Knitted Knockers can download the pattern at knittedknockers.org. There is a list of tested and approved yarns so that the prostheses can be washed and still hold their form.

Kathy James, Joanne Beasley and Deanna Scott are shown in this photo.
From left, Kathy James, Joanne Beasley and Deanna Scott.

One pair of Knitted Knockers — created and mailed to recipients — costs about $10. Each pair takes about three hours to make. The group welcomes donations of time, materials or money.

Finished knockers can be dropped off at My Sister Knits, 1408 W. Mountain Ave. in Fort Collins; at The Wellness Place, 2121 E. Harmony Road in Fort Collins; or at Medical Center of the Rockies’ volunteer office, 2500 Rocky Mountain Ave. in Loveland. They can also be mailed to: 7115 Pruitt Court, Fort Collins, CO 80526.

To request a Knitted Knocker, visit knittedknockers.org.

For more information about this local group, email knittedknockers@uchealth.org or call 970.624.1880. Although James and Scott have partnered with UCHealth, the Knitted Knocker program is a community benefit for all breast cancer patients no matter where they receive cancer care.