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Knitted Knockers: Local volunteers knit handmade prostheses for cancer survivors

Marianne Sweet
Knitted Knockers Roc

Finding an affordable and comfortable prosthetic for women who have had mastectomies is necessary—the scars of battling breast cancer last long after the treatment. A worldwide army of knitters is helping to solve this problem with handmade prostheses called Knitted Knockers.

The soft prosthesis is knitted in different colors and sizes by a network of volunteers who distribute them to individual women, breast cancer organizations, and doctor's offices worldwide free of charge. A downloadable pattern is used create them with reccomended materials.

They were the superior option for Marianne Sweet, a two-time breast cancer survivor. Sweet underwent a reconstruction surgery. She said the gel prostheses  her doctor reccommended felt heavy and uncomfortable. 

"It just felt like this glob of stuff I couldn't imagine having that heavy thing stuck in my bra," said Sweet. 

She learned about Knitted Knockers through her doctor's office and decided to knit pairs to donate to the local and national chapters. Sweet said she has knitted over 500 pairs in three years. 

The idea of a knitted breast prosthesis is not a new concept. Still, Barbara Demorest, a breast cancer survivor from Washington State, made them more accessible when founded the Knitted Knocker website in 2011. 

Judy Earley discovered the website while helping a friend with an online search for a more comfortable breast prosthetic. She co-founded the local chapter Knitted Knockers Roc with Connie Van Hoesen in 2014. She said the prothesishelps women feel whole.

"You can feel like the person you were prior to your operation, and you can function, and nobody knows, said Earley. "Their clothes fit better, they feel better, and they present themselves how they feel." 

Early said women who are waiting for reconstructions find the prothesis useful because it may be months maybe before they can have surgery.

Knitted Knockers Roc has supplied more than 800 prostheses for Pluta Cancer Center,Rochester Breast Cancer Coalition, and several doctors' offices in the Rochester area.

Earley said distribution has slowed down since the pandemic, but demand for the knitted prosthesis remains high.

April Franklin is an occasional local host of WXXI's Weekend Edition.