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Finding Passion and Purpose After a Mastectomy

How Knitted Knockers helped a breast cancer survivor find normalcy—and purpose.

barbara demorest
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For years, I felt an emptiness inside even though I was a mother of two successful adult sons, married to a great guy, and working as an accountant at a job I loved. Daily, I prayed: “God, give me a passion and a purpose.”

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, I still prayed for passion and purpose, but one of my immediate thoughts was:  “I don’t want to lose my hair” and right along with it was, “I hope I don’t have to have a mastectomy.”

I did have a mastectomy. Due to complications I was not immediately reconstructed. Life was so different than I had anticipated in the days after surgery. I felt so weak. I expected to get back to my active life immediately and look “normal.” Trying to figure out what to do, I called a local cancer support group, asking about a prosthesis.

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“Oh honey, I am so sorry,” I can still hear the volunteer telling me. “You can’t put anything on that scar for at least six weeks.”

Six weeks? I needed to get back to life and feel normal again.

I hit a low point. I felt I had made a wrong decision. When complications arose in surgery due to my small veins, reconstruction was not possible. I had not authorized an alternate option because I’m a bowler and the alternate plan would have compromised my core strength, needed to bowl. “If only I had opted for plan b,” I told myself, “I would be normal right now.” I could not see what God knew at that moment.

The next week at my doctor’s appointment, I was holding a brochure, considering a breast prosthetic. 

My doctor, bless his heart, looked at me and said, “Many women aren’t happy with traditional breast prosthetics. Too heavy. Too expensive,” he told me. “They require a special bra.

“Do you knit?”

His words were unexpected.

“What?” I thought, a bit confused. “Umm yes. Why?”

“I’ve heard about these things called Knitted Knockers,” he continued, “but I’ve never seen one.”

I left the appointment with information about a website and called Phyllis Kramer. She’s the super knitter from my Saturday morning support group. Six women from my church have been meeting on alternate Saturdays to do life together, to pray and to support one another.

I knew if anyone could knit a knocker, Phyllis could. She’s a project engineer who has knitted since age five. I still felt too weak.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Phyllis told me, “but I will give it a try.”

On Sunday, I ventured out to church, my first outing since seeing the doctor. Still very self-conscious, I wore a loose fitting jacket over a shirt and a sock stuffed in my bra. I felt tentative and weak.

In the bathroom before going into the sanctuary, I heard a knock on the door.

“Barb.” I recognized my husband’s voice. “Phyllis told me to give you this right away.” I opened the door, and Denny handed me a Victoria Secret bag.

I knew what must be inside. I pulled out two of the most amazing, soft and light, “knitted knockers” shaped just like breasts. One beige, the other chocolate brown. Both lightweight cotton.

I slipped the beige one into my bra and the Victoria Secret bag into my purse. These little gifts of love were the most beautiful things to my eyes. Not only were they light and made by someone who cared, but I could get a hug with them without feeling self-conscious!

I came out of the bathroom and saw Linda, another member of the Saturday morning group. I didn’t hesitate. I embraced her. Immediately, I knew that Knitted Knockers needed to be in doctors’ offices everywhere. Women like me needed this soft prosthesis that slips into a regular bra after a mastectomy and makes you feel normal again.

The next week I contacted a New England knit shop owner whose website held the Knitted Knocker instructions that Phyllis had modified. When I asked if I could help promote the knockers, the shop owner, a private person overwhelmed by people contacting her, was delighted.

The knocker instructions had not originated with her. She had received them from a knitter in Canada, modified them, and given them the name, “Knitted Knockers.”

For the next two years, Phyllis knitted at least two knockers a week, and I visited doctors’ offices in and around Bellingham, Washington, where I live. I set up knittedknockers.org and offered to ship free knockers to any woman who needed them.

I knew I needed to recruit more knitters. I reconnected with the ladies of a knitting group I’d joined 5 years earlier but lost touch with and asked them to consider knitting knockers and they agreed.

I realized then that God cares about every little aspect of our lives, even the comfort and dignity a knitted breast prosthetic gives. God uses everything. I had joined that group for social purposes, but God used that experience when I was praying for purpose.

Not long ago, my younger son, Tom, a pastor of an inner-city church in California, asked me: “If you could go back and not have a mastectomy and breast cancer, knowing what you know now, would you?”

I didn’t hesitate.

 “No,” I told him.

“My life is filled with passion and purpose. I would not have a do-over. I don’t think God willed me my cancer, but God used it. God had a plan long before I had a clue.”

For information on how to receive free Knitted Knockers or volunteer to help bring comfort and dignity to a woman who has had a mastectomy, visit knittedknockers.org.


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