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Special Report: Women help breast cancer survivors through knitting

In Minnesota, there are an estimated 4,500 new cases of breast cancer in 2018 alone. Even if you aren’t directly affected by breast cancer, you most likely know someone who is.

At Winona Health, a group of women decided to help breast cancer survivors feel good about themselves – through knitting.

An afternoon of catching up on things around the table, knitting needles at work.

But this isn’t your typical knitter’s guild.

“These volunteers, that’s what they want to do, they enjoy doing that, giving back,” knitting volunteer Gloria Siewert said. “And this is a great way to do it.”

These women are knitting, stuffing and bagging for a cause.

“Its just a great project,” Siewert said. “It warms your heart, it makes you feel so good.”

“Having a diagnosis of beast cancer is overwhelming,” Winona Health general surgeon Doctor Crystal Lumi. “Most women don’t hear anything else after the words breast cancer.”

But can you guess what they’re making?

“I think people who feel well, feel they’re a survivor,” Dr. Lumi said.  

No, it’s not a hat.

“And how a woman looks is as important as how she feels,” Dr. Lumi said.

“They want something they can wear immediately and feel like themselves again,” Siewert said. “It brings a smile to their face.”

About a year ago, Winona Health Volunteer office started a knitting program to help women do just that.

“What you do is you slip this inside your bra. If you’ve had a double mastectomy, you put on in each side and you’re good to go,” Siewert said.

It’s a project called “knitted knockers.”

“Breast cancer affects everyone,” Siewert said. “Whether it be your mom, your grandmother, your daughter, your friend.”

Made out of cotton yarn for sensitive skin, women who have had mastectomies can use these creations before or instead of breast reconstruction – or opt to use in place of prosthesis.

“Our first set of knockers went to a friend of mine who is 84. And she has just..she’s been over the moon,” Siewert said. “Shes been so excited and happy – with her knockers.”

One knocker takes about 8 hours to make. They can knit anywhere or time they want.

“She didn’t have anything 30 years ago when she had her surgery,” Siewert continued. “She tried the regular normal prosthesis, but it was cumbersome, it was heavy, it was hot. So she just used..really whatever she could find. So, now she has a knocker!”

The best part?

“These are free,” Siewert said. “That is the beauty of it.”

Funding comes directly from donations.

“It really is a nice alternative,” Siewert said. “It really is.”

“We’re finding more and more how our attitude, and how we approach our illness and how we recover from it is strongly related,” Dr. Lumi said.

It gives a survivor a nice lift.

“They feel whole again. It makes you feel so good and that your doing something so good for someone at a low point in their life,” Siewert added.

Plus, it gets them through football season.

“My goal is that we would no longer have to knit knockers,” Siewert said. “That we would no longer have breast cancer. That would be nice. That would be very nice.”

Knitted Knockers is growing movement that was founded by a women named Barbara Demorest, who is a breast cancer survivor herself. After having complications with reconstructive surgery a friend knit her a pair of knockers. Since then, she’s made it her mission to supply these to women all over the world, just like her.

If you know someone who could benefit from a pair of knitted knockers. You can reach out to Winona Health, get a pair from the gift shop or order from the company’s national website ( – all for free.

If you’d like to make a donation, you can write a check to Winona Health Volunteer attention Knitted Knockers.

The group is always looking for extra hands.


Beret Leone

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