Knitted knockers. Breast beanies. Tit bits.
The names may be irreverent, but the intent is the same: Offer uplifting support – via bra inserts – to women after breast cancer surgery.
Knitted knockers are soft, lightweight breast-shaped inserts that can be tucked inside a regular bra or slipped into the pockets of mastectomy or sports bras. Stuffed with adjustable amounts of fiberfill, they’re intended to replace what breast surgery took away.
Handmade by volunteers, they are given away free to women who’ve had mastectomies or lumpectomies. In recent months, several Sacramento-area groups have begun knitting and crocheting them by the dozens, part of KnittedKnockers.org, a nationwide nonprofit based in Bellingham, Wash.
Carol Peterson, a longtime volunteer in Rocklin, is both making the knitted knockers and wearing them. After two mastectomies and radiation, she was fitted at a major department store for two breastlike inserts and special bras. Total cost: more than $700. Even though she was reimbursed by Medicare, Peterson found the prosthetic breasts heavy, often hot and generally bulky.
But her knitted knockers are a softer solution, she says.
“These are certainly nicer and more comfortable. They’re lighter, washable and made by somebody who cares,” said Peterson, who’s crocheted four pairs herself in the past month. “They make me feel like I’m not missing a part of me.”
They can be worn immediately after surgery, which women say is a huge help, mentally and physically, in returning to normal life.
Although breast cancer rates have remained stable in the past decade, the American Cancer Society estimates that more than 246,600 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2016. Between 50,000 and 100,000 women a year undergo mastectomies, studies show.
Washington state resident Barbara Demorest, a retired tax accountant, had never heard of knitted knockers when she underwent a single mastectomy in 2011. Anxious to get back to work and resume her normal life, she was depressed at the prospect of not being able to wear a bra, or having to wait weeks for her scars to heal before getting reconstruction or a prosthetic breast. At her “lowest point” since her initial cancer diagnosis, Demorest recalls, a friend made her a pair at her doctor’s recommendation.
As soon as she slipped one into her regular bra, “it changed my life,” she said. Convinced there was an unfilled need, Demorest formed a nonprofit to spread them beyond her hometown.
Today, knitted knockers are handmade by hundreds of volunteer knitters and crocheters in every U.S. state (except Mississippi) and nine countries, from Cambodia to South Africa. From a pattern on the Knitted Knockers website, they’re stitched up in soft pastels or bright, peppy colors, in cup sizes from A to DD. Made of soft yarn or pima cotton, they’re stuffed with fiberfill that can be added or subtracted as needed for a natural look.
Most women use them as is, said Demorest, but some add extra weight, such as marbles or small pebbles. Demorest said one woman told her she used 50 pennies.
Each month, the Bellingham nonprofit mails out 1,000 knockers to women here and in other countries, free of charge. Women can request their preferred size and color. Some Knitted Knockers groups, like California Capitol Cknockers in Fair Oaks and Angels in Stitches in Sacramento and Elk Grove, donate them to local cancer centers or directly to individuals upon request.
“It’s hard enough to have a breast cancer diagnosis, but it’s also a self-concept transition for many women,” said Lisa Dix, clinical educator for the South Sacramento Cancer Center on Bruceville Road. “If they’ve had a mastectomy, it’s obvious. But with these, right after surgery, they can wear their knitted knockers and not have anyone give them a second look.”
This month, Dix began giving them out to the center’s breast cancer patients, packaging them in pink organza bags. She asked Teresita Valadez, whose Sacramento group has been knitting caps for the cancer center’s chemotherapy patients since 2008, if they would start making the knockers, too.
Valadez, who formed Angels in Stitches for the project, didn’t hesitate. “Most everyone knows somebody who’s been a survivor or lost them to cancer. We feel this is a way we can help people in their battle to survive. It’s like an embrace, extra love and comfort from somebody who doesn’t know you who has reached out to do something.”
As for the name? According to Demorest, it was coined by a yarn shop owner in Maine, who started making them after a breast cancer diagnosis. By the time Demorest contacted her in 2011, the website was defunct and the yarn shop was no longer in business.
As founder of KnittedKnockers.org, Demorest admits she was a tad concerned about the bawdiness of the original name. “We didn’t create the name, but we embrace it. We take breast cancer very seriously, but if you can’t laugh sometimes, you’ll cry.”
What they are: Hand-knitted or crocheted bra inserts for women who’ve undergone a mastectomy. Women who’ve used them say they’re lighter, softer and far less expensive than conventional prosthetic devices used after breast cancer surgery.
History: The name was originally coined by a Maine yarn shop owner with breast cancer who was giving them away to friends. Re-launched as a nonprofit in Bellingham, Wash., in 2011, the all-volunteer group is overseen by breast cancer survivor Barbara Demorest. Knockers are created by dozens of volunteer knitters and crocheters in 49 states and nine countries. They’re given free to women through doctors, hospitals, breast cancer centers or directly by mail.
Contact: The KnittedKnockers.org site carries patterns and lists state-by-state groups of volunteer knitters. There are 15 in California, including three in the Sacramento region. For more information, visit the website or call 360-305-2139.