Whenever homemaker Evelyn Hoe sits down to watch her favourite programmes on TV, her hands are never idle. She will be busy knitting but it wouldn’t be a sweater or mitten for family or friends. In fact, Hoe usually does not know the person she is knitting for.
But she does know that her knitting will make someone’s day better, and that a breast cancer patient will appreciate her efforts.
Hoe knits breast prosthesis for women who have undergone a mastectomy or other procedures to the breast.
Traditional breast prostheses are made from foam or silicone and can be heavy, uncomfortable and unaffordable to some.
Knitted breast prosthesis, or knockers as they are cheekily called, 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.
“Some women prefer to use knitted knockers as they are more comfortable in our humid climate. Plus, these handmade knockers are a cheaper alternative to silicone prosthesis, ” says Hoe who is among thousands of volunteers of Knitted Knockers Support Foundation (KKSF), a Washington-based non-profit organisation that makes and distributes free knitted knockers to women who need breast prothesis.
KKSF, which was formed in 2011, now has chapters worldwide, with over 3,500 volunteer knitters who have churned out some 168,000 knitted knockers for cancer patients.
Hoe joined the movement two years ago, and set up Malaysia’s first Knitted Knockers group but she remains the only volunteer. Currently, there are three Malaysian groups that provide free knitted knockers to breast cancer patients who have undergone a mastectomy.
The mother of two chanced upon the knitted knockers group while surfing the Internet.
“I came across KKSF while researching new knitting ideas. The idea to knit knockers was inspiring, especially since it benefits cancer survivors. It fuelled my interest to use my knitting skills for a good cause, ” says Hoe who has been knitting for over five decades.
According to the 2012-2016 Malaysian National Cancer Registry report, breast cancer is the most common cancer and accounted for 34.1% of all cancers among females in Malaysia. A total of 21,634 cases of female breast cancer were diagnosed for the period of 2012-2016 compared with 18,206 cases in the 2007-2011 report.
A mastectomy is performed for women with a high risk of cancer or the presence of specific genetic mutations that could increase cancer risks.
While a mastectomy is one of the best ways to treat breast cancer, some patients become self-conscious about their body, once their breasts have been removed. Some women opt to undergo reconstructive surgery while others prefer to use breast prostheses.
The downside of silicone prostheses is they are heavy and come with a hefty price tag of over RM1,000 (including a mastectomy bra set).
Knitted knockers are made from cotton, acrylic or polyester yarn which made for light and soft prosthetic breasts.
When placed in a regular bra, knitted knockers take the shape of a real breast. Inside the knitted casing, polyfibre is added for extra volume. A few marbles or pebbles are also inserted into the knockers to weigh it down, making it feel like a real breast.
“Breast cancer is one of the top causes of death among women in Malaysia. A number of my friends have been diagnosed with cancer. As a woman, it is important to support others who are afflicted with this disease.
“This is my small contribution to help women who had a mastectomy or lumpectomy. And I feel happy doing it for women who need them, ” says Hoe, who has knitted and given away 300 yarn knockers to breast cancer patients.
Anyone can knit, Hoe says anyone who can knit can make the knitted knockers.
“It’s easier to knit knockers than a tote bag. These days, there are many knitting video tutorials on YouTube and social media channels. A knitted knocker requires only two stitches - purl and knit, ” says Hoe, who takes about one and a half hours to complete a knitted knocker.
Knitted knockers come in different bra sizes, from A to DD to even E.
She learned how to knit the knockers by watching video tutorials on knittedknockers.org, and she uses a pattern specified by KKSF.
“The pattern that KKSF encourages us to use makes for softer and well contoured inserts. The yarn is critical and I use the recommended materials"
All she asks them for is their name, mailing address, bra cup size and colour preference.
“I don’t ask for personal details. It’s all done in full trust.”
Breast cancer survivor M. L. Lee, 58, has been using Hoe’s knitted knockers for three years and finds it better than silicone breast prosthesis.
“Though it’s knitted, these handmade items look real and awesome. Knitted knockers are easy to use, and adjustable. It’s light and comfortable. It fits perfectly into my non-wired bras, ” says the school transporter from Kuala Lumpur.
Hoe’s family members and close friends have been supportive of her kind deed. So far, her son Tuz Wong, 24, and daughter Marie Wong sponsor the yarn she uses, which has come to about RM1000. Her husband, businessman Toon Ngee Wong, 63, sponsors the postage of the knitted prostheses.
“I’m grateful that my family members have been very supportive. My close friends have also chipped in money to buy the yarn, ” says Hoe, who knits knockers in various colours such as pink, blue and brown.
Hoe thinks knitting is a great past time as it enables her to keep her mind active.
“Knitting requires concentration and hand-eye coordination. It helps to improve my hands’ dexterity and strength too. I usually knit while watching my favourite TV shows, or while having a cuppa at a restaurant, ” says Hoe, who has also made knitted beanie caps for cancer patients.
Whenever she knits in public places, people are always curious to know what she’s up to.
“Some people ask if I’m knitting a sweater of baby booties. They are often surprised when I tell them I am knitting knockers for cancer patients. Many people have never heard of knitted knockers.”
Though Hoe is willing to teach the art of knitting knockers to friends, there hasn’t been any takers.
“Some of my friends have commented that it’s too pricey to knit knitted knockers. Many haberdashery stores aren’t interested either. They say knitting is not a popular hobby and there’s a limited supply of yarn, ” laments Hoe, who is trying to get private medical centres to distribute knitted knockers.
“I feel honoured that I can contribute back to society, especially to breast cancer patients. By doing something so simple, you actually bring a smile to women who have gone through so much. And this is something that everybody can contribute and do together.
For more information, or to join Evelyn Hoe in her mission, e-mail knittedknockersmalaysia @gmail.com