Barbara Demorest’s story is one that begins with a diagnosis and leads to a ripple of hope for thousands, extending from her Bellingham community all the way to women of rural Uganda. In July of 2011, Demorest received the devastating call that a lump she had biopsied was indeed breast cancer. She would undergo a mastectomy and, due to complications, Demorest was unable to be reconstructed.
After hearing about Knitted Knockers from her doctor, a light bulb went off for Demorest. A Knitted Knocker is a hand-knit breast prosthesis stuffed with polyester fiberfill. They are intentionally light and soft, making them an attractive alternative to the traditional prosthesis that can be uncomfortably heavy.
Demorest retired two years ago in order to run Knitted Knockers as a nonprofit and give them away for free to doctor’s offices and individuals who order them via her website where the pattern is available, along with instructional videos and other resources.
“I began to think about how to scale this up in order to inspire and equip people to provide to their own communities,” Demorest said.
Scale up she did. In October 2016, Demorest received a call from a representative of the Breast Cancer Initiative of East Africa, asking her to come to Rwanda to teach women there how to make Knitted Knockers. Women are now being trained all over Africa by the group Demorest and her team instructed. As a result of conversations she had with leaders in Rwanda during that trip, the Minister of Health has even vouched to buy a second mammogram machine for the country within the year, Demorest said.
Since her involvement with Knitted Knockers, Demorest and her team of volunteers have registered over 300 groups in 16 countries to knit the knockers that breast cancer survivors receive for free after their surgeries. They fulfill around 1,000 orders every month.
Yet when asked why she doesn’t have them manufactured, Demorest says, “We can’t move away from the hand-knit model. They are light and soft and beautiful, but the important part is that they’re made by someone who cares.”