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Helping women find comfort after a mastectomy

By Judith van Berkom –

File photo of Eileen Hunt by Andrea Tomkins

File photo of Eileen Hunt by Andrea Tomkins

Westboro’s Eileen Hunt lives in a tiny post-war house on Wesley Avenue. Some might know her as the volunteer caregiver of the gardens at the Embassy West Senior Living on Carling Avenue, or an active volunteer at Hampton Iona Park. She’s also a busy volunteer gardener at Maplelawn Garden on Richmond Road.

Originally from the UK, Eileen grew up on a farm and later studied horticulture from the University of Nottingham. She immigrated with her husband and child to Canada in the 1960s and became a Canadian citizen in 1968. The family lived and worked out west for 25 years, she retired in 1997 at age 55, and they moved to Ottawa in 2007.

In December 2016, Eileen developed breast cancer, which required a total mastectomy in January 2017 and the removal of 11 lymph nodes and some nerves in her armpit. It took seven months for the swelling to go down. The skin becomes sensitive after surgery, she explains, adding that her arm feels wooden some of the time or like she has a basketball under her arm. During that time, medical staff advised her not to invest in prosthetics.

After her diagnosis, she was instructed to purchase a commercially-made camisole with fiberfill, but she found the seams made the garment too uncomfortable to wear.

A friend in Calgary sent her a Knitted Knockers prosthesis for swimming (it was stuffed with bathtub sponges) and it launched her next volunteer career as a knitter, making soft, comfortable, lightweight prosthesis for mastectomy survivors. After surgery, she explains, you can’t wear certain bras. The knitted prosthesis also gave her protection from the seat belt.

”I was so intrigued after receiving one, I borrowed knitting needles, bought the cotton and started to make one,” describes Eileen. ”It took me two afternoons and actually made me sweat with the concentration and following the pattern! Once I had one completed, I was hooked. The miracle is, I think, that the chemo drugs last year actually made my joints better (just my theory) and with each one I make, my tension improves.”

These special, hand knit by volunteers, prosthesis are made of non-irritating Cascade Ultra Pima cotton yarn and are available free of charge to women who find traditional breast prosthetics too expensive, heavy, sweaty and uncomfortable.

“For me they work like a charm,” says Eileen. “I have tried all the recommended prosthesis and bras but these are lightweight and washable and for gardening and an active lifestyle, they are comfortable.”

Eileen Hunt’s collection of knitted breast prosthesis. Photo by Judith van Berkom

An international organization, Knitted Knockers Canada was founded by Nancy Thomson of Waterdown, Ontario. For information about the group, prosthesis patterns, and the materials list, visit knittedknockerscanada.com. To contribute knitted prosthesis, send an email to contact@knittedknockerscanada.com.

Breast prosthetics are available free of charge to those who have suffered through the trauma of breast cancer. Eileen hopes to spread awareness about this resource and would love to join a group that knits or crochets so that creating them can become a social activity. Please contact her at ebbevin@bell.net.

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This feature is brought to you in part by Catherine McKenna, MP Ottawa Centre

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