Helping breast cancer survivors regain a sense of self

No matter how well endowed they are, or even if they are not, most women are conscious of their breasts and the contour it adds to their silhouette. Women with breast cancer struggle with their sense of self, harrowed by a life-changing diagnosis, its treatment and ensuing side effects.

Whenever Jayshree Ratan was in the US, she would volunteer with the Knitted Knockers, donating the knockers (breast prosthetics) she had crocheted. “Back in India, when a relative underwent a mastectomy, I offered to make them for her. She was so pleased with them, she asked if we could do something like this here too. That chance question is how we started out,” says Mumbai-based Jayshree.

Helping breast cancer survivors regain a sense of self

“A couple of us crocheting and knitting friends got together and began working on knockers. We registered with the Knitted Knockers and the Saaisha India Foundation came into being in March 2018. Initially, we didn’t know how many pairs were needed and finding people who required them was difficult.”

Even as word about these knitted knockers began to spread, Jayshree began talking to doctors and patients to create awareness about them. “Surprisingly, not many doctors were aware of or handled this area of patient care. It was usually the radiologist or counsellor who instructed breast cancer patients in post-surgery care.”

A majority of doctors in India and their patients were unaware of skin-friendly breast prosthetics. The only options seemed to be silicon or foam padded bras. “The foam bras in Mumbai were not even washable, they could only be aired out — yet those were the only options even the doctors knew of,” she says.

“We got our first break from Dr Selvi Radhakrishna of the Chennai Breast Centre. She approached us after seeing the site and took some knockers for her patients,” says Jayshree. “Now, it works both ways for us. Sometimes I meet doctors and tell them about the product; sometimes when a person approaches me for knockers, I get her doctor’s details and then connect with them.”

Jayshree’s husband Kumar Ratan, a former banker, is an integral part of the foundation’s work. “This job can be quite tough. Meeting doctors, following up on orders and posting them, talking to support groups, the admin work... I wouldn’t be able to do it without him,” she says.

Voluntary in every sense

Today, the Saaisha India Foundation has around 230 volunteers in different parts of the country, with about 40% of them contributing on a regular basis. The work is voluntary is every sense of the word — volunteers buy their own mercerised cotton yarn, make knockers at their own pace and send them to Jayshree in Mumbai.

“Once the knockers get here, we send them directly to the patients free of cost via registered India Post. We don’t use a courier service as they don’t deliver to interior parts of the country.”

“I personally interview volunteers because I want to make it very clear that this is a voluntary service without remuneration. Though patterns are available on the net, we provide training for the volunteers to ensure the knockers are up to standard.”

Some volunteers train newcomers, handle social media accounts, maintain the database and generally pitch in wherever they can. Saaisha also has Indian expat volunteers in West Asia who bring back the knockers they have made to benefit the needy in India.

“Once a volunteer with Saaisha, always a volunteer. We have no targets and we encourage people to work on knockers whenever they can, wherever they can.” Though the lockdown has seen Jayshree and Kumar take on a bulk of the work, there has been no lull in operations.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 6:05:51 PM |

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