Scotland

Knitted knockers for breast cancer survivors

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Media captionWhy I've knitted hundreds of woollen breasts

A breast cancer charity has found a unique way to help give survivors their confidence back - 'knitted knockers'.

Sharon Simpson, 52, has been knitting breast prostheses since 2014, along with over 300 other volunteers who fondly refer to themselves as the 'Knockerettes'.

The charity sends about 300 woollen breasts each month, free of charge, to women who have had a mastectomy or lumpectomy.

They are a more user-friendly alternative to silicone breast prostheses which women say can be hot, heavy and sticky.

Image caption About 300 people across the country are knitting the prosthetics

Sharon, who is originally from Bishopbriggs but now lives in Ireland, faced her own battle against the disease after being diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2013.

She said: "Breast cancer isn't pink and it isn't fluffy, it's a nasty horrible disease that changes people's lives."

Sharon discovered Knitted Knockers on social media during her cancer treatment, having been a keen knitter for years and a member of several other online knitting groups.

She found knitting to be therapeutic while she went through chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Image caption Sharon Simpson started knitting prosthetic breasts after she was diagnosed with cancer

She said: "It is quite a restful pursuit.

"You can do it from bed or from the couch, and how could you not love yarn?!"

Under the knife

Many women decide against reconstructive breast surgery following a mastectomy, including Sharon.

She said: "It's a full on general anaesthetic - you're going under the knife again.

"It's not something you'd take lightly."

The Knitted Knockers can be used as an alternative to the prosthetic breasts issued to women by the NHS, which Sharon said can be heavy and feel uncomfortable against scar tissue.

"The NHS prostheses serves a great purpose, but they are quite sticky, and Knitted Knockers are around a tenth of the weight," she said.

For Sharon, the most rewarding part of creating Knitted Knockers is seeing the recipients regain confidence in their body image.

Image caption Knitted knockers are said to be an alternative to silicone breast prostheses

"For a woman, losing a breast can be like losing a part of their identity."

"Looking in the mirror to see a breast that's either disfigured or not there any more can be quite harrowing."

Sharon added: "We've had feedback that's made everybody cry.

"We had one woman who hadn't worn anything other than baggy t-shirts, and she got her Knitted Knocker and tried on every item of clothing she had in her wardrobe, because she looked like she did before the mastectomy."

The prosthetics come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours, and can be made to order with or without a nipple.

They are knitted or crocheted from cotton yarn and filled with soft toy stuffing.

The volunteers recently began knitting 'Aqua Knockers' too, which are suitable for use in swimming pools, and are stuffed with shower scrunchies so they can be wrung out after use.

'Dark days'

Sharon, who works as a radiographer, did not have an easy journey to remission from the cancer.

She said: "I became a patient.

"The logic and the rationality you have in your day-to-day work goes straight out the door.

"I didn't always think I was going to beat it.

"I had my dark days when I just felt like giving up."

In 2018, Sharon will be five years cancer-free.

"It's a milestone," she said.

"What I'll be looking at when I hit five years is the next five years.

"My reason and purpose is to make life better for those in the throes of cancer, and that's why I'm doing Knitted Knockers."

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