“It was literally life-changing for me:” Knitted knockers for breast cancer survivors

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Instead of costly heavy prosthetics, more breast cancer survivors who have had a mastectomy are turning to knitted knockers, always donated and showing women how much they’re cared for, even from strangers across the globe.

“That caring factor, knowing somebody cared enough to make this for you, is priceless,” said Barbara Demorest, breast cancer survivor and founder of knittedknockers.org, speaking with FOX 17 from her home in Washington state.

One in eight women will have breast cancer in their lifetime. And healthcare data shows the rate of mastectomy surgeries is rising, increasing nearly 40 percent between 2005 and 2013 alone.

From lighthearted knitting and crochet tutorials on knittedknockers.org, to powerful moments in the lives of breast cancer survivors, knitted knockers have touched the lives of thousands.

After her diagnosis with breast cancer in 2011, Demorest started the donation pipeline for knitted knockers: a light, soft, knit alternative to prosthetics, always donated and often delivered to survivors.

Demorest tells FOX 17 she experienced her lowest point sitting in her doctor’s office after her mastectomy surgery. Then she says her doctor suggested something she never heard of, knitted knockers, and her friend and all-star knitter Phyllis found a pattern online.

“It was when I put that in my bra, and it was so soft and light and beautiful, and I could give a hug with it,” recalled Demorest, “I could wear a regular bra and shop like I always could that it was literally life-changing to me. And I knew right then that we needed to have those in the doctors’ offices.”

Now her doctor’s office in Washington state to yarn shops across West Michigan are donation points, each on the knitted knockers’ registry on its website.

“It’s a great cause,” said Michelle Filips, owner of Garenhuis Yarn Studio in Holland, also on the knitted knockers’ registry. “Knitters love to help people.”

“We have tissues,” said Chantella Bentsen, owner of Apple Knits and Purls in Muskegon, a yarn shop also on the knitted knockers’ registry.

Thirteen years ago, Bentsen first picked up her knitting needles, opening Apple Knits and Purls yarn shop a decade later. Then, just a few months after opening her doors, she opened her heart.

“I’ve been through a lot with the leukemia, and so I have a special heart for cancer patients in general,” said Bentsen. “And this was a way I could give back to the community.”

She says she’s donated dozens of knitted knockers to survivors at her shop, saying the moment a survivor looks at herself contently in the mirror is indescribable.

“When [survivors] come in and they get this, and they stand in the mirror and they look at themselves and they get the big grin on their face, that makes this all worth to me here in the store,” said Bentsen teary-eyed. “To be able to provide this, you can see how happy they are with what the community did for them.”

Knitted knockers are often donated out of understanding from fellow cancer survivors like Bentsen.

“It’s very traumatic and very scary to get this diagnosis, I’ve been there with a different type of cancer, but the fear is still the same,” she said.

“A lot of people said it puts them in tears because somebody took the time to hand-make something for them to make them feel better about themselves,” said Filips.

Demorest says their website's knit and crochet patterns have been downloaded globally more than 800,000 times. And while it’s impossible to chart exactly how many have been donated worldwide, knitted knockers are opening a door to hope.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel, there are so many resources,” said Demorest to anyone facing cancer. “And if you look at the thousands of women that make that connection to the lives that they’re living: they’re swimming, they’re exercising, they’ve got kids, they’re doing life, you know there’s a lot of life ahead.”

Demorest wants to thank all of the knitters and crocheters who make knitted knockers possible, adding there are multiple patterns for different skill levels. To get involved, or register as a donation site, visit knittedknockers.org.

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