From One Survivor To Another: Hand-Knitted Breast Forms Lighten The Pain Of Mastectomy
In a little cottage at Redwood Terrace Retirement Home, Pat Anderson’s creativity pours out of her. After a long career as a textile designer, she still enjoys making yarn by hand on her homemade spinning wheel.
“It's like riding a bicycle, you don’t forget — and everything you wear starts with this process,” she said.
Her work, both old and new, is strewn on her couch as her friend Pat Moller, admires her handmade creations of hand-woven sweaters and dresses from the 1970s.
The residents of this tranquil retirement home in Escondido call it, “The Magic Place,” as it has become the setting of new friendships, as well as a surprising grassroots movement called SBW, or “Sisterhood of the Boobless Wonders.”
Pat Anderson and Pat Moller are breast cancer survivors and part of a trio of knitters who have literally taken comfort into their own hands — in the shape of hand-knit breast forms called “Busters.”
"They're nothing more than a specially designed accessory to help restore the feminine contour and a sense of feminine dignity,” said Anderson.
Since 2015, when Anderson made the first prototype, the Busters project has helped more than 1,200 women across the country who have undergone mastectomy surgery.
“All women’s clothing is designed to accommodate the bust contour. So if that is gone, your clothes don't fit right and you end up feeling dumpy and unkempt,” said Anderson.
Anderson says, most of all, it shows. Until now, the only official solutions offered to mastectomy patients were surgical reconstruction or medical-grade silicone prosthetics which can be heavy and not the most comfortable option.
“(Busters weigh) less than an ounce, they’re soft, they're washable, they’re natural and normal looking,” she said.
At first glance, Busters may appear to look simple, but Anderson says there is a very specific knitting technique that involves the direction and grain of the yarn, which allows them to fit naturally. There is a contour on top and a flat surface on the back in order to fit against the body. Anderson has patented the name and the design.
What makes Busters even more unique, unlike prosthetics, is that they are customizable by simply adding or removing padding from a small hole on the flat side. Anderson says you can make them almost a full cup size larger or smaller.
“These are accessories. They're not fake boobs or prosthetics, and the light, bright, cheerful colors help women remember that they are breast cancer survivors, not victims,” said Anderson.
With each pair of Busters taking eight hours to knit, Pat Moller stepped in.
“(Pat Anderson) happened to be in front of me in the buffet line. And I said, 'if you need any help knitting, I would be happy to,'" said Moller.
Moller is in charge of knitting D and double D cup sizes, and usually produces three pairs per week. “And she's doing the biggest sizes. So, you know, she's a good knitter,” said Anderson.
The third knitter, Jan Rillie, also helps knit larger sizes. Because she doesn't live at Redwood Terrace, she is unable to meet with the group frequently.
When Berniece Dufour found a lump on her breast while on vacation, as a former nurse, she took a very pragmatic approach.
“I didn't want any nonsense. I said, just lop it off. Seriously, that's what I said,” said Dufour.
After her surgery, Medicare covered the cost of the silicone prosthetic, which usually costs more than $200 dollars per breast.
“It was heavy. I weighed it on my postal scale. It weighs two pounds,” said Dufour. “And it was hot in the summer and it could even be cold in the winter. So, you know, it wasn't most comfortable, but that's what they had.”
Dufour wore that breast for seven years before she discovered Busters. Now she says the silicone prosthetic breast sits in a box.
“Now, I have a much better choice and I'm sticking with it,” said Dufour.
Hundreds of other women have also made the choice to stick with Busters. They are free of charge to any survivor who wants a pair. A basketful of thank you notes shows the gratitude from recipients, who usually send a donation to 'pay it forward' and sponsor another woman’s pair. From one survivor to another.
As for Pat Anderson, In a career that dates back more than 50 years, she says Busters is her final project. “How many almost 89 year old women can say that they're still doing something that makes a difference?”
And much like the 60/40 acrylic/nylon blend chosen for its strength and softness, these survivors exude that same resilience, creating a product that is built to last — down to the final thoughtful stitch.
For a free pair of Busters or to volunteer time to help with knitting, please email Pat Anderson at email@example.com.