CINCINNATI — Women who've gone through mastectomy know the experience is life-altering. There are a range of reconstruction options, or survivors can choose to "go flat."
If they do that, they might only use a silicone prosthesis. But volunteers with knitting needles at Mercy West Hospital are providing a second choice.
"It helps you relax," Vicki Wright said.
Wright knits on her porch in Ross Township, Ohio, her knitting needles quietly clicking away.
"Each pair takes me 3 to 4 hours," she said.
Wright's not talking about socks or blankets. She's creating a lifeline back to normalcy for women who will get her work.
"I find them really comfortable," Sue Yates said.
Under her clothes, Yates is wearing "Knitted Knockers" — soft, comfortable prosthetics for breast cancer survivors.
They first came to the attention of Dr. Anna Sobolewski, a breast surgeon at Mercy West, thanks to a patient who had had a double mastectomy. That woman learned about them in a support group and chose them over her heavier silicone prosthesis.
"When I saw her back in the office for a visit, she pulled out the knitted knocker from her bra and said, 'This is the best thing ever,'" Sobolewski said.
Wanting to give her survivors another option, Sobolewski went to the auxiliary.
"And...asked me if volunteers would be interested in doing a project like this," said Alice Wanninger, Mercy West's director of volunteer and auxiliary services.
They got on it, knitting all different cup sizes with guidelines: They must be 100% cotton — so they're soft and don't irritate surgical scars — and they have to be washable.
Wright said she loves the work. For her, it's a chance to use the knitting knowledge passed to her by her grandmother to help others.
"She would be pleased, too," she said. "It was passed down – a family tradition with love."
Wright has stitched about 50 pairs since she started the work last winter. That's making a difference for women who've gone flat after surgery.
Sobolewski said Knitted Knockers fill a void as patients go through a tough journey. They help with self-image after surgery.
"I think it's an appearance thing – it's just all in how you want to feel about yourself," Yates said. "How you wanna look."
She said they're more comfortable and not as heavy as the silicon.
"Women helping women — that's what it's about," Wanninger said. "We're supposed to be loving and serving each other — and we get it done."
This story was originally published by Kristyn Hartman on WCPO in Cincinnati.