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Monday, May 29, 2023

Meet the woman whose charity Knitted Knockers uplifts cancer patients

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Jayashree Ratan, founder of Saaisha India Foundation, uplifts cancer patients in the most unique way. She brought together a community of women under the brand name Knitted Knockers to crochet prostheses for women who have undergone mastectomies.

A mastectomy (removal of the breast) can be quite devastating for a woman. Societal influences on a woman’s appearance have always been a source of worry.

At a time when women spend thousands of dollars on breast augmentation surgery, having to endure a treatment to remove a breast may be devastating.

While women in urban India continue to have access to silicone prosthesis, women in rural India frequently stuff handkerchiefs and cotton balls in their bras to create the illusion of a full breast — none of which is easy on the skin that has already been surgically repaired and may result in rashes, infections, or skin abrasions. Consider the type of pressure that drives a woman to endure such agony and anguish in order to appear a certain way.

Kartika Rajagopal, a 33-year-old Ayurvedic Ophthalmologist, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017 and recommended to have a mastectomy. She was diagnosed with breast cancer again in 2020 and had yet another mastectomy.

Kartika tried everything from silicone-based prosthesis to cotton ones before discovering Saaisha India’s prostheses.

“It altered my life,” she says of the prosthesis created by the group.

The nonprofit organization Saaisha India Foundation was founded in 2018 by Mumbai-based Jayashree Ratan, who saw the urgent need to provide a solution for the many women in India who endure mastectomy. It was here that they began manufacturing ‘Knitted Knockers,’ which are crocheted or knitted prosthesis.

In the previous four years, this non-profit organization has donated over 5,700 free prostheses thanks to a network of over 270 volunteers from India, the UAE, and the United States.

Around this time, one of my cousins in India had also undergone a mastectomy.

She was the one who suggested I do this for many others in India who had simple access to such prosthesis.

Knitted knockers were introduced in India in this manner. “Jayashree and two other friends went on to develop a network all throughout India with women who crochet these prosthesis in their spare time over the following four years, beginning in March 2018.

“We had no idea we’d affect so many lives — it’s been such an eye-opener,” she says.

While the organization initially relied only on word of mouth, they were given the opportunity to establish a social media presence during the COVID-19 shutdown.

According to Srividya Gopinath, a volunteer with knitted knockers, “Being on multiple social media platforms got us a lot of exposure.

That helped spread the word and brought us numerous knitters from all across the country.

We have collaborations with other hospitals, including Tata Memorial and Chennai Breast Centre. “Some of the breast cancer survivors who have utilized the prosthesis are now knitters and community participants.”

Srividya explains, “The pattern is given with the knitters, who then produce it in their own time with their own material that has been pre-approved.”

Because it is entirely volunteer, some members knit up to 20 prosthesis every month, while others manage 10 to 12.

The prosthesis are provided in pairs and may be cleaned and reused several times.

Srividya adds, “Depending on use, one can utilize these prosthesis for close to two years.”

“We perform online training sessions to guarantee that little subtleties like the size and tension of the stitches, etc.” explains Srividya. We have three levels: beginning, intermediate, and senior.

Each program is tailored to the requirements of the various groups.

The few that need to be corrected are shared with the members who created them.

Saaisha India is home to numerous women, ranging from an active 16-year-old novice in the UAE to an 82-year-old skilled crocheter from India.

While the group’s primary goal is to offer prostheses to women, they have also manufactured chemo hats and beanies for children impacted by cancer in the previous year.

The prosthesis and caps may all be hand washed and used for up to two years.

They are constructed of 100% mercerized cotton yarn, which is pleasant on the skin and does not cause allergies.

They come in a variety of cup sizes and fit well in a mastectomy bra.

“We recommend hand washing and drying it on a level area to avoid disfiguring the prosthetic,” Jayashree advises. “Just a few hours spent by our volunteers manufacturing these ‘knockers’ have altered the lives of so many women in such a profound way,” Jayashree concludes.

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