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Bosom Friends

by Jane Baldwin 4 months ago in body

Sewing for survival, with a little help from my friends

Knitted Knockers breast prosthetics

In February 2020, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was detected early, and the tumor appeared small, but I had to choose between a lumpectomy plus radiation, or mastectomy with reconstruction. The hardest part about this decision was the fact that I had finally become comfortable in my own skin. In my mind, it is truly just a body, but it is the body I’ve spent my entire life coming to terms with! However, If I opted for a double mastectomy plus reconstruction, I could choose a breast size that worked with standard clothing sizes!

As a matter of necessity, I sew some of my own clothing. In addition to being 6’2 and plus-sized, I’ve been large-breasted since middle school. I could never find button up blouses or blazers to close over my chest. A few years ago, I’d taken some tailoring classes and learned how to draft patterns. I’ve been working on my full bust adjustment for decades. I was getting closer with an armscye princess seam, but still wasn’t satisfied with the fit.

My surgery took place the first week of April. Gina Quesenbery, a local breast cancer foundation, provided generous financial assistance for medical bills and travel expenses. When my expanders failed due to infection and had to be removed, I was relieved to get them out. I was sick. I’d had three surgeries in three weeks, and I just wanted to start feeling better. I’d had big plans of spending my recovery time drafting digital embroidery designs for my craft fair business, reading, and sewing. I don’t remember what I actually did.

This is how I ask for a smooch while recovering

This all coincided with our state’s stay home order in response to COVID-19, so I was able to work from home. This was also a relief. Once I felt up to it, I returned to work. I could work as much as I had energy for, take a nap, and work some more later. My pathology reports came back showing clear margins and no lymph involvement. They’d removed all the cancer, and I wouldn’t need radiation or chemotherapy. I was not just going to survive, I was determined to thrive!

I started experimenting with dressing for my new body. I made a couple of peasant blouses in the event I had to wear something more formal than the yoga pants and button up pyjama tops I’d been living in. I wasn’t sad to lose the breasts, but I had curated my entire wardrobe to fit them. To return to work, I wanted to feel as “normal” as possible, and having breasts had been normal for me since I was a middle schooler.

Peasant blouse made from an Ottobre Design pattern

I ordered some mastectomy bras, and they were uncomfortable, overly complicated contraptions. I just wanted a simple, comfortable undergarment. I bought some bralettes with removable pads, and experimented with different types of prosthetics. They were also wrong. Even though I was no longer trying to fit my cup size, the straps were still not long enough for my tall frame. I couldn’t believe I was flat chested, and was still going to have to make my own bras!

I had joined several facebook groups for breast cancer survivors, and this is where I learned about Knitted Knockers. They’re soft, lightweight, and naturally shaped. I ordered a free pair from the organization but -- covid. It was going to be some time before they arrived. I was crafty, but I was not up for learning how to knit. I asked a multi-talented coworker if she knew how to knit, and if she'd be interested in making a pair for me. She accepted eagerly, and another coworker ordered all the supplies she’d need.

Knitted Knockers made by my coworker

I set about finding a bralette pattern online and learning how to sew lingerie. I modified a design to include a pocket layer for the prothesetics. I used soft cotton knits and stretch lace. I even ordered bra hardware and acid dyes so I could color match my elastics. And yes, all of this was going to be easier for me than learning to knit at that moment.

Drafting a flat pocket for the Poppy Bralette

I made a sweet pink and white lace combination, a neutral ivory bra, and a black lace and mesh bralette. When my friend had completed knitting the knockers, they were a perfect match! I still haven’t decided when I’ll schedule my reconstruction. After what I went through, I’m not eager for more surgery yet. It’s been almost a year now, and I’m still loving my incredibly comfortable, custom mastectomy bralettes and am thinking about modifying the pattern to camisole length.

Back to work with my Knitted Knockers (yes, I made my mask)

After taking a break from making several sets for me, my coworker started knitting knockers to donate to other women. She’s made a few pairs and mailed them off to the organization to be stuffed and delivered to other breast cancer survivors. It’s such a compassionate gift of her time and talents. We’ve talked about engaging other local knitters to organize a Knitted Knockers club. I like to fancy that we’d name our club “Bosom Friends.”

“A bosom friend—an intimate friend, you know—a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul. I've dreamed of meeting her all my life. I never really supposed I would, but so many of my loveliest dreams have come true all at once that perhaps this one will, too.” Anne Shirley, in Anne of Green Gables

The Poppy Bralette by House Morrighan, modified for prosthetic pockets


Jane Baldwin

Jane is a veteran educator, a seamstress, a reader and writer, a breast cancer survivor, a wife and an auntie, and a pursuer of learning new skills to make pretty things.

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