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Maya Trabulsi, KPBS
Maya Trabulsi, KPBS
Losing breasts to cancer can be a shattering experience. As Maya Trabulsi of KPBS in San Diego reports, a tight-knit group of women at a retirement home in Escondido, California, is lessening the pain associated with mastectomies — one loving and skillful stitch at a time. This report is part of our ongoing arts and culture series, CANVAS.
For women with breast cancer, losing one or both breasts in the course of treatment can be a shattering experience.
As Maya Trabulsi of KPBS in San Diego reports, a tight-knit group of women at a retirement home in Escondido, California is lessening the pain associated with mastectomy, one loving and skillful stitch at a time.
It's part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.
It's like riding a bicycle. You don't forget.
In her little cottage at Redwood Terrace retirement home, Pat Anderson's creativity hasn't slowed down over the years. After a long career as a textile designer, she still enjoys making yarn by hand on her homemade spinning wheel.
And everything you wear starts with this process.
Her work, both old and new, is strewn on her couch.
Her friend Pat Moller is here.
This is the very first thing I ever made. Did you see this hat, Pat?
And admires her handmade creations from the '70s.
The two Pats call this tranquil home in Escondido the Magic Place, as it has become the setting of their new friendship, as well as a surprising grassroots movement called SBW.
And that stands for Sisterhood of the Boobless Wonders.
The Sisterhood of the Boobless Wonders 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-knitted bust forms, aptly called Busters.
And here they are. They're nothing more than a specially designed accessory.
In the six years since Pat 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.
Pat says, most of all, it shows. And until now, the only official solutions offered to patients were surgical reconstruction or medical-grade silicone prosthetics, which can be heavy.
Busters, on the other hand:
This weighs less than an ounce. they're soft. They're washable. They're natural and normal looking.
At first glance, Busters may look simple.
These are tricky to make.
Pat says there is a very specific knitting technique that involves the direction and grain of the yarn. And Pat has proudly patented the design.
We have got a contour here, but it has to be flat on the back.
What makes them even more unique, unlike prosthetics, is that they are customizable in size by simply adding or removing filling.
Almost a full cup size larger or smaller.
Every last detail has been considered.
The light, bright, cheerful colors help women remember that they are breast cancer survivors, not victims.
Each pair takes about eight hours to knit. It's a real labor of love.
What do you think of something like this?
So, Pat Moller stepped in to help.
She 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.
And she's doing the biggest sizes. So, you know she's a good knitter.
When fellow resident Berniece Dufour found a lump on her breast:
I didn't want any nonsense. I said, just lop it off.
Medicare covered the cost of the silicone prosthetic she holds in her hand, which usually costs more than $200 per breast.
I weighed it on my postal scale. It weighs two pounds. And it was hot in the summer and it could even be cold in the winter. I don't think anyone would choose this.
Since she was introduced to Busters, she says this breast sits in a box.
Now I have a much better choice, and I'm sticking with it.
A basketful of thank-you notes with gratitude from recipients usually comes with donations that go toward sponsoring another woman's pair, from one survivor to another.
There is life after breast cancer.
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 its softness, these survivors exude that same resilience, creating a product that is built to last, down to the final thoughtful stitch.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Maya Trabulsi in San Diego.
And they are making a difference. What a wonderful story.
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