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Women knit to help breast cancer survivors 'feel good about themselves'

Posted: 3:24 PM, Jul 05, 2022
Updated: 2022-07-05 21:29:22-04
Knitted Knockers
Knitted Knockers
Knitted Knockers

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women in the United States, making it the most common cancer in women according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Often, these women are faced with the option of removing their breasts to get rid of or prevent cancer. But that decision and what comes after is not easy.

In a world where appearance means so much, going through cancer treatments and having breasts removed can be scary. But that is why knitters everywhere are stepping in to help patients keep a sense of normalcy.

Cheri Valladares
"When it actually happens, and you look in the mirror, no matter how much you do, you are not prepared to see yourself with nothing there,” says breast cancer survivor Cheri Valladares.

"When it actually happens, and you look in the mirror, no matter how much you do, you are not prepared to see yourself with nothing there,” says breast cancer survivor Cheri Valladares.

It was just supposed to be another routine check-up for Valladares, but at 42, she got her breast cancer diagnosis. She had just gotten engaged and after reassurance from her fiance, they decided to go through with a mastectomy.

"This was supposed to be all done within a year, but as of last year, I’ve had 24 surgeries."


23ABC IN-DEPTH: Cancer Rates

Taking an in-depth look now at cancer rates across the United States, the CDC reported female breast cancer accounts for the majority of new cancer cases as of the latest data collected in 2019.

  • Those cases made up nearly 130 per 100,000 people.
  • The next closest was prostate cancer at nearly 112 cases per 100,000 people.
  • The CDC says about 9 percent of breast cancer cases occur in women younger than 45.
  • And in total, an estimated 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer at some point in their lives.


Valladares went through breast reconstruction. One side was fine, but the other constantly rejected the surgery.

“Someone told me ‘if you are going to stuff your bra, at least stuff it even.' And I couldn’t believe it. They don’t know my story. They don’t know what has happened to me.”

Knitted Knockers
In a world where appearance means so much, going through cancer treatments and having breasts removed can be scary. But that is why knitters everywhere are stepping in to help patients keep a sense of normalcy.

After that, her surgeon told her about Knitted Knockers, a cotton alternative to the heavy and sometimes uncomfortable plastic breasts usually given to those with a mastectomy.

"It was actually just a relief to have something there so I can be somewhat normal and not get stared at in public because I had one side reconstructed and one side wasn’t."

That relief and confidence that she regained with the knocker are thanks to the volunteer work of a handful of local knitters.

"They can feel good about themselves," explains Carolyn Borso. "I do have friends who have one breast and don’t choose to have a knocker, but for those who do need a knocker, it boosts their self-confidence. makes them feel good and for me that is comforting."

Knitted Knockers
In a world where appearance means so much, going through cancer treatments and having breasts removed can be scary. But that is why knitters everywhere are stepping in to help patients keep a sense of normalcy.

Putting her skills to use, Borso made her first pair of knockers for her sister who had a mastectomy. Since then, she helped jumpstart the Knitted Knockers group in Bakersfield six years ago. So far, she has knitted more than 300 plus gloves and caps for other cancer patients.

Knitted Knockers are special handmade breast prosthesis for women who have undergone mastectomies or other procedures to the breast. Traditional breast prosthetics are usually expensive, heavy, sweaty and uncomfortable. They typically require special bras or camisoles with pockets and can’t be worn for weeks after surgery. Knitted Knockers on the other hand are soft, comfortable, beautiful and when placed in a regular bra they take the shape and feel of a real breast. Our special volunteer knitters provide these FREE to those requesting them.

"It just makes me feel good, and I know I am helping other people."

Both have the same message for all women

"Always check yourself. If you feel something that you never felt before, talk to your doctor," says Valladares.

Knitted Knockers
In a world where appearance means so much, going through cancer treatments and having breasts removed can be scary. But that is why knitters everywhere are stepping in to help patients keep a sense of normalcy.

The Knitted Knockers are completely free to all cancer patients through the Adventist Health Breast Center.

And for those who want to help, you can join to help knit year-round or participate in their annual knocker knit-off which also serves as a fundraiser to buy the special yarn used. It’s $25 to enter and they have different categories like most creative and best theme.

HELPING OTHERS

Knitting for women with mastectomies

Breast cancer often runs in the family, so while some are not shocked to get this diagnosis, it still shakes up your lifestyle. But having support groups and finding out about Knitted Knockers helps some tackle this journey with a positive outlook.

Natalie Martinez, Knitted Knockers
"Sitting there balling because it is devastating to hear oh my God, I have breast cancer," said Natalie Martinez, a breast cancer survivor.

"Sitting there balling because it is devastating to hear oh my God, I have breast cancer," said Natalie Martinez, a breast cancer survivor.

But that outlook soon changed when a nurse navigator introduced Martinez to the 50 Shades of Pink support group, making all the difference.

"The doctor told me I was a perfect candidate to have the surgery and get implants and I said 'no I am good, I am wonderful without them.'"

She says knowing about Knitted Knockers, a cotton alternative to the heavy, expensive, and sometimes uncomfortable plastic breast usually given to those with a mastectomy, helped solidify that decision.

"If I want to be a C cup, give me a C. If I want to be a D, give me a D. If I don’t want anything, I don’t have to wear anything. So for me it was the confidence of being able to walk out and still know I have something there."

Martinez is just one of the thousands of women who had found confidence using Knitted Knockers across the U.S and globally. She like others is thankful to the women behind the knockers who volunteer their time to help women

In Bakersfield, it started with a nurse who happened to love knitting.

Jacqui Engstrand,  Knitted Knockers
"One of my patients actually told me about Knitted Knockers, because she is a knitter and I am a knitter and I looked it up and said well, I can make these but I need more people to help me make them."

"One of my patients actually told me about Knitted Knockers, because she is a knitter and I am a knitter and I looked it up and said well, I can make these but I need more people to help me make them."

So, Jacqui Engstrand enlisted the Bakersfield Knitting Guild and has since given over a thousand free knockers to mastectomy patients.

Bakersfield Knitting Guild, Knitted Knockers
So, Jacqui Engstrand enlisted the Bakersfield Knitting Guild and has since given over a thousand free knockers to mastectomy patients.

The knockers come in all sizes and colors to match skin tones and are made with hypoallergenic yarn that won’t scratch or damage the scar.

"They don’t have to be a patient of mine to get knockers, so it does not matter if they got treatment somewhere else or 10 years ago, if they need one, they can get one," said Engstrand.

They mail them out all over the U.S and even to other countries. The demand is great and to continue providing them cost-free, the groups of volunteers who make them have an annual fundraiser that helps buy the special yarn used.

Knitted Knocker Knit-Off