Knit­ted Knock­ers bring com­fort to breast cancer sur­vivors

Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - FRONT PAGE - By Linda Finarelli

UP­PER DUBLIN >> If you want some­thing done, ask a busy woman to do it — ask Anita Strainick.

In ad­di­tion to a full-time job as a 401(k) ad­min­is­tra­tor, the Up­per Dublin woman spear­heads Knit­ted Knock­ers, a project ben­e­fit­ing breast cancer pa­tients at Abing­ton-Jef­fer­son Health’s new As­plundh Cancer Pavil­ion, which hap­pens to dove­tail nicely with a knit­ting group she runs at the Up­per Dublin Pub­lic Li­brary.

Knit­ted Knock­ers are de­scribed as soft, com­fort­able breast pros­thet­ics for women who have un­der­gone mas­tec­tomies, lumpec­tomies and ra­di­a­tion and/or are un­der­go­ing re­con­struc­tion.

In the past 2½ years, Strainick and some helpers have pro­vided 175 of the free, poly­fiber-filled, knit­ted cot­ton pros­thet­ics to the cancer cen­ter.

“This was some­thing I could do for a cancer pa­tient, help them live a nor­mal life,” she said.

Many pa­tients find them prefer­able to tra­di­tional breast pros­the­sis, which are hot, heavy and ex­pen­sive and don’t breathe, she said.

“These are breath­able; they’re light. A lot of peo­ple use them in be­tween re­con­struc­tion; some don’t go through re­con­struc­tion.”

Strainick, who was born and raised in Abing­ton, was taught to knit at age 7 by her grand­mother. The nee­dles have been clack­ing in her hands ever since.

A de­sire to “give back” at Abing­ton Health be­gan nine years ago when she was suc­cess­fully treated for a brain hem­or­rhage and more re­cently when her hus­band, Michael, re­ceived cancer treat­ment. The cou­ple have since be­come ma­jor donors.

“Be­cause of his cancer, we be­came in­volved with the new cancer cen­ter,” Strainick said. “We do­nated a lin­ear ac­cel­er­a­tor suite, specif­i­cally for cancer pa­tients” un­der­go­ing ra­di­a­tion.

Breast cancer af­fects one out of ev­ery eight women in their life­time and leads to more than 50,000 mas­tec­tomies in the United States an­nu­ally, ac­cord­ing to Knit­tedKnock­ers.org.

Knit­ted Knock­ers was founded by breast cancer sur­vivor Bar­bara De­mor­est, whose doc­tor di­rected her to a woman in Maine who cre­ated them for her­self and was will­ing to al­low De­mor­est to “use the name and share them freely with oth­ers.”

Strainick, who had read about Knit­ted Knock­ers, started knit­ting them af­ter she met De­mor­est at a trade show three years ago and was “very im­pressed with her and the pro­gram,” she said.

“When the cancer cen­ter opened here, I re­al­ized they didn’t have that here,” Strainick said, so she showed Abing­ton-Jef­fer­son Health Pres­i­dent Meg McGoldrick some sam­ples, and “she thought it would be a won­der­ful project.”

Strainick, who spear­heads the project, then pre­sented the Knit­ted Knock­ers to the on­col­ogy physi­cians, who pro­vide them to their pa­tients.

“The doc­tors come to me and ask me for Knit­ted Knock­ers when they have pa­tients who they know could ben­e­fit from hav­ing them; they are grate­ful that we have them on site and can im­me­di­ately pro­vide them to our pa­tients,” said Betty Cum­mings, a nurse nav­i­ga­tor at the As­plundh cen­ter. “Pa­tients who have used them are most ap­pre­cia­tive as well; they are com­fort­able and easy to work with.”

The Knit­ted Knock­ers web­site, where Strainick is listed as a provider for Abing­ton Health, sup­plies the pat­terns for the fully wash­able pros­thet­ics, which must be made of ap­proved yarns that “don’t ir­ri­tate the skin and hold up well,” she said.

Strainick uses Cas­cade Pima cot­ton in nine dif­fer­ent col­ors she bought from a yarn shop in Em­maus owned by a breast cancer sur­vivor who sold it to her at cost, she said. The poly­fiber was ob­tained through a grant from the Abing­ton Health Foun­da­tion.

The knock­ers come in dif­fer­ent sizes and can be ad­justed by adding to or de­creas­ing the amount of fill, she said.

It takes about three hours to make a pair of knock­ers, six hours for a larger size, she said.

Strainick cur­rently has a group of five knit­ting the knock­ers, three of whom are in her Thurs­day night knit­ting group at the li­brary. “I al­ways wanted to have a lit­tle knit­ting group and no­ticed the li­brary didn’t have one,” she said. “I asked if they would con­sider an evening pro­gram for knit­ters a lit­tle over three years ago.”

“What I love about the weekly knit­ting group … is how im­pact­ful it is,” UDPL Di­rec­tor Cheri Fiory said. “On one level, the peo­ple who at­tend learn and share the art of knit­ting and cro­chet­ing. But Anita and the other knit­ters took this pro­gram to an­other whole level when they turned their tal­ents to those in need.

“We are just thrilled to be a part of it.”

“Breast cancer is so preva­lent, it’s sad,” Strainick said. “[Knit­ted Knock­ers] was some­thing I could give back. A lot knit blan­kets for pre­emies; this was some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

Any­one who would like to help knit or make a dona­tion to­ward the sup­plies should con­tact Ni­cholle Lawyer, gifts co­or­di­na­tor for the Abing­ton Health Foun­da­tion, at Ni­cholle. [email protected]­fer­son.edu or 215-481-2011.

LindA finArelli — for dig­i­tAl firSt me­diA

Anita Strainick has spear­headed the lo­cal knit­ted knock­ers ef­fort, which pro­vides breast pros­thet­ics for women who have un­der­gone mas­tec­tomies, lumpec­tomies and ra­di­a­tion and/or are un­der­go­ing re­con­struc­tion.

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