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Steamboat knitters make ‘knockers’ for cancer survivors

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Stitching spirals of ultra-soft cotton and bamboo yarn, the Friday afternoon knitters at Sew Steamboat put their time and skills toward a number of charity projects.
They knit hand bags that hang over walkers for elderly people, and they knit hats, scarves and mittens for those in need.
For the past several years, they’ve also been knitting “knockers” — handmade breast prostheses for cancer survivors.
They knit them in all different cup sizes and skin tones and with or without a nipple. They can be modified with custom filling for irregular shapes, if survivors have had a lumpectomy.
“They’re so much nicer than silicone prostheses,” said Jan Fritz, director of cancer services at UCHealth Jan Bishop Cancer Center.
When the hospital has a need, Fritz lets the knitters know. They also knit them for friends and family members and send knockers to the Washington-based Knitted Knockers organization, which distributes the yarn prostheses across the country.
The nonprofit is run by a woman who came across the knitted option after being told she couldn’t use a silicone prosthesis on top of her scar for six weeks while she waited for reconstruction.
“These are ingenious,” said knitter and Sew Steamboat partner Lynn Wunder. “And machine washable.”
Depending on knitting speed, a pair takes about three or four hours to make, she said. In the shop downstairs, pattern kits are available for purchase.
Silicon prosthesis can be hot, heavy and expensive, Fritz said.
These are soft, lightweight and comfortable. They can fit in any bra and are perfect for tender skin following surgery.
If a survivor elects for reconstruction, the knitted prosthesis can carry over in the time between surgeries. They can also be long term for those who don’t get reconstruction.
“It’s just enough so you don’t have to be self-conscious,” Fritz said. “It makes you feel more complete.”
It’s hard to understand unless you’ve gone through it, said Bonnie Madderom, a knitter, breast cancer survivor and volunteer with Bust of Steamboat. “Until you are there, you don’t realize how devastating it is.”
Fritz’ primary message is to let people know the knitted knockers are available at the hospital at no cost, and if the size required isn’t available, the knitters will readily create custom knockers.
Cho Tin Tun Kirkpatrick, another knitter and Sew Steamboat partner, just finished a single knocker for a family member in her 80s who has used a heavy silicon prosthesis for 40 years.
“It’s about how important it is to feel like a woman,” Kirkpatrick said.

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