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Linda Mallory and friends knit comfort for women after mastectomy

By Brittni Henderson

A pledge, a promise, and dedication—the sentiments that recently inspired Linda Mallory of Smithfield to not only continue a business venture, but to provide the stamina it needs to flourish to reach more women who need her help.

According to a study outlined on breastcancer.org, researchers found that over the past 10 years, more women diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States chose to have a mastectomy or double mastectomy, followed by reconstruction if applicable. The other, or “healthy,” breast is often removed during this procedure because of the fear that the cancer could spread to this part of the body at some point in the future. For some women, reconstruction is out of the question, or they simply do not want to have to go through another surgery. Breastcancer.org also states that only about 56 percent of women opt to have a reconstruction, which leaves a very large number of women in a category that some doctors refer to as “living flat.”

For Mallory, she was able to find a way to help these women find a way to live happy and peaceful lives without having to go through another vigorous surgical procedure, but still having the opportunity to feel feminine for the rest of their lives.

BRAvo RI is a completely volunteer-based organization that creates knitted breast prostheses, completely free of charge, for breast cancer survivors. Mallory heard about similar groups doing the same thing in other areas of the country, which eventually led her to discover the national organization called Knitted Knockers.

“Having many friends, coworkers, and acquaintances throughout my lifetime facing some form of breast cancer, I am well aware that not all will elect or be eligible for reconstruction,” Mallory says. “How could I not volunteer?”

Mallory has an art studio in Cumberland that she and the other volunteers utilize to produce the prostheses. As mentioned, 100 percent of the program is based on volunteers, donated supplies, and dedication. On average, one prosthesis will cost only about $3 and take from 2 ½ to 4 hours to create. They only use yarn from a qualified list, which includes no wool, only hypoallergenic material, and it is always washable. Participants creating these prostheses typically buy their own yarn or yarn that is provided by other volunteers who don’t know how to crochet, but still want to help.

This past summer, there were six dedicated volunteers busy creating the products to help women feel more comfortable with their bodies after such a low point in their lives. Now, there are 26 who help keep the process moving. These motivated individuals meet every Monday at Mallory’s studio from 6:30-8 p.m. They meet to knit, crochet, seam, stuff, inspect, and repair the products. Others who cannot make the meetings have starting working from home.

“We are willing to pick up and also offer to run errands to get them supplies as needed,” Mallory shares.

As for the women who are looking for prostheses, many are referred to this local organization by the main Knitted Knockers hub in Washington. Women need to simply supply their cup size and a color preference, if any, and the eager volunteers get right to work.

“We have produced and delivered over 30 prostheses to women in our first month!” Mallory says. “[Although] the Washington group distributes over 200 a week, we have no idea what the demand in RI will be, but we stand ready to serve!”

Many might wonder why a knitted prosthesis would be better than one made commercially, and Mallory explains that it comes down to how it’s made.

“Some commercially made prostheses are heavy and uncomfortable,” she says. “One woman made me chuckle when she said she threw her prosthesis at the wall after she removed it from discomfort. She missed the wall and it cracked her double-paned window.”

For others, not having prostheses at all causes great social anxiety and stress.

“Another of our recipients advised that she had not gone out socially for some time and only wore baggie tee shirts for months,” she shares. “She avoided weddings and social events because she did not look or feel comfortable. After receiving ours, she could not wait to go dress shopping and was so very excited to be able to ‘get back out there again.’ Her feelings are not uncommon as we have heard similar stories with each delivery. All are very grateful for this very simple alternative.”

So what’s next for BRAvo RI? Get the word out.

For now, women in need find out about the program through volunteers and word of mouth. Mallory hopes to expand their reach even further by training more individuals, and continuing to grow the company to serve the many women who are in need in such dire ways.

After a very recent loss, Mallory made the pledge to continue work with this organization. She also feels that utilizing art as a form of therapy, even from unfortunate events that have taken place in her own life, works as a way to heal the mind, body, and soul. Her studio, which is called Boldacious designs, hosts classes and workshops for all ages that include various forms of art and photography.

“I hope that once I retire, I can spend more time helping those that are healing from trauma or loss so they can enjoy the rewards art has to offer, as well as sharing the fun while instilling the various forms of visual arts to younger folks who may not have the opportunity in their own lives,” she says. “Creating beautiful works of art delivers a great sense of accomplishment and pride, and I believe everyone is capable of learning.”

These knitted prostheses are a work of art in and of themselves. It is beautiful to see and feel the happiness that these women experience once they possess what can seem like such a seemingly random object. But for them, these products are giving them a new life—a way to start over and continue living happy lives.

Writer Brittni Henderson dedicates this article to the Duffy family in memory of Nancy Duffy who died this past spring with breast cancer.