Abington Volunteer and Friends Make a Difference for Breast Cancer Survivors
Some people knit baby blankets and booties and sweaters and scarves. Others, like Anita Strainick, knit “knockers.”
Anita heads up a program at Abington – Jefferson Health that creates soft, comfortable breast prosthetics for women who have undergone mastectomies, lumpectomies, and radiation, and/or are undergoing reconstruction.
Traditional breast prosthetics are typically expensive, heavy, hot, and uncomfortable. Often, they require special bras or camisoles with pockets, and can’t be worn for weeks after surgery. Knitted Knockers are soft and light, can be placed in a regular bra, and usually can be worn right away. They are also adjustable—stuffing can be added or removed as needed for the best fit.
An avid knitter since the age of seven, Anita started stitching up scores of the knit-and-purled-girls after reading an article about the national Knitted Knockers organization in a craft magazine, and then later meeting its founder, Barbara Demorest, at a wool and fiber trade show in New York.
“I was intrigued, so I downloaded the free pattern and decided to make a few,” Anita says. The article instructed volunteers to send the completed prostheses to Demorest in Washington state. Once she receives the knockers, Demorest—a breast cancer survivor herself—ships them out to breast cancer patients around the world, free of charge.
At the time, mailing the knockers to Demorest was the only way to get them distributed. But in 2016, Anita was inspired to keep her work closer to home. That is when her husband, Michael, was diagnosed with prostate cancer and sought treatment at Abington Hospital – Jefferson Health. Because of the wonderful care Michael had there, Anita became involved with the Abington Health Foundation and the new Asplundh Cancer Pavilion. The couple decided to make a substantial donation to the new center, and now have a linear accelerator suite named after them.
Anita’s connection to Abington didn’t start with Michael’s care. She was born there, and her life was saved there twice—once when she was 8 years old after rupturing her spleen in an accident, and more recently nine years ago when she experienced a brain hemorrhage and was rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment.
“Donating to the cancer center was a way for us to give back,” Anita explains.
But she wanted to give back even more, and decided to do it through her favorite pastime. With Abington Health Foundation, Anita developed a knitting program that would keep the knockers local and accessible to patients—and volunteered to oversee it.
Wasting no time, she contacted a few fellow knitters, and reached out to Conversational Threads, a yarn shop near her home, to purchase a bulk amount of Cascade Pima cotton. The cotton is the preferred material for knockers because it is a soft yarn that doesn’t irritate the skin, and also holds up well in the wash. After purchasing the polyfiber filler with a small grant, the knocker knitters were in business.
There are eight knitters in the Abington group and an additional few at Anita’s Thursday night knitting group that meets at the local library. So far, the cancer center at Abington has received more than 150 knockers.
At the moment, the ladies are keeping up with demand, but with the new Asplundh Cancer Pavilion, Anita anticipates an increase in requests.
“Right now, I’m stockpiling,” Anita says, noting she can knock out a knocker in about two to three hours. “Because of my husband I know what a cancer patient goes through, and it’s not easy. If I can make just one thing a little better for a breast cancer patient, then I’m happy to do it.”
If you are interested in learning more about Anita’s knitting knockers program—or if you can’t knit, but would like to make a donation to defray the cost of materials for knitters—please contact Nicholle Lawyer at Abington Health Foundation at Nicholle.Lawyer@jefferson.edu or 215-481-2011.