One Vermont woman is helping breast cancer survivors, one stitch at a time.
Morrisville’s Dena Hirchak makes knitted knockers, a breast prosthetic for women who have had mastectomies or similar procedures. They’re put in a bra to mimic breasts, an alternative to traditional silicone prosthetics.
“It’s absolutely free for anyone who wants one,” Hirchak said.
Silicone prosthetics can cost up to $300 each.
Knitted Knockers is a national non-profit that collects the handmade items. Volunteers make and deliver around 1,000 knockers a month.
Hirchak started making them in the spring of 2016.
“All requests from Vermont come to me. I usually fill them within a week,” Hirchak said.
They can be knit or crocheted, and are stuffed with a polyester fiberfill.
A big difference women notice: the weight. A knitted knocker in a C cup weighs around a tenth of a pound, while an Amoena Essential size 8R weighs more than a pound.
Hirchak works with women across the state and country to find the right size. Kathryn Peno, a breast cancer survivor who lives in St. Albans, says she uses two knitted knockers.
“I ended up using one as my breast, and one on the side under my arm that filled the hole,” Peno said.
Companies say that silicone prosthetics are supposed to last around two years, but Peno found that isn’t always the case.
“I had one that didn’t last. It was just a little over a year. The [silicone] prosthesis, you have to wash that every night, you had to wipe it off. And I did that faithfully and mine still leaked. I didn’t get another one, I patched it with some tape because it was leaking,” Peno said.
Dena says her life has been changed by the women she’s been able to meet and help since getting involved with knitted knockers. She collects notes sent to her.
“It’s really wonderful when I hear from the users, because it connects me with them, and I know I’m making a difference,” Hirchak said.
Here’s a few of the things they wrote:
“Dear Dena, thank you for my knocker, it’s so comfortable. We’ve had a lot of fun explaining to friends what a knocker is. That came from Stowe.
“Wow. Thank you. Thank you for the gorgeous, fun knitted knocker. I’ve been a cancer survivor for the past 13 years and I so appreciate this beautiful, fun, more environmentally friendly option for a breast prosthetic.
“I wore it on a two-mile hike today, and it wasn’t hot or uncomfortable like my [silicone] prosthetic is. I wish I had known about these sooner, what a difference it makes.”
Hirchak is one of two places listed on the Knitted Knocker’s website in Vermont. The other is Must Love Yarn in Shelburne.
Co-owner Kelly Otty says people were asking if the shop was a drop-off location. Now the store is on the site, and people who make knitted knockers can give them to the shop to be sent to women in need.
“To be able to give these women some part of themselves back, so they feel a bit more like themselves, for free, for nothing, it’s a great feeling,” Otty said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the exception of certain skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common cancer found in women. In 2013, 230,815 women and 2,109 men were diagnosed with breast cancer.
Information on how to request a knitted knocker, or for instructions on how to make one, can be found on the Knitted Knocker’s website.