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These tight-knit retirees are helping breast cancer survivors feel like 'Boobless Wonders'
Judy Woodruff: 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.
Pat Anderson: It's like riding a bicycle. You don't forget.
Maya Trabulsi: 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.
Pat Anderson: And everything you wear starts with this process.
Maya Trabulsi: Her work, both old and new, is strewn on her couch.
Her friend Pat Moller is here.
Pat Anderson: This is the very first thing I ever made. Did you see this hat, Pat?
Pat Moller: No.
Maya Trabulsi: And admires her handmade creations from the '70s.
Pat Moller: How neat.
Maya Trabulsi: 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.
Pat Anderson: And that stands for Sisterhood of the Boobless Wonders.
Maya Trabulsi: 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.
Pat Anderson: And here they are. They're nothing more than a specially designed accessory.
Maya TrabulsiI: 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.
Pat Anderson: 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.
Maya Trabulsi: 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:
Pat Anderson: This weighs less than an ounce. they're soft. They're washable. They're natural and normal looking.
Maya Trabulsi: At first glance, Busters may look simple.
Pat Anderson: These are tricky to make.
Maya Trabulsi: 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.
Pat Anderson: We have got a contour here, but it has to be flat on the back.
Maya Trabulsi: What makes them even more unique, unlike prosthetics, is that they are customizable in size by simply adding or removing filling.
Pat Anderson: Almost a full cup size larger or smaller.
Maya Trabulsi: Every last detail has been considered.
Pat Anderson: The light, bright, cheerful colors help women remember that they are breast cancer survivors, not victims.
Maya Trabulsi: Each pair takes about eight hours to knit. It's a real labor of love.
Pat Anderson: What do you think of something like this?
Pat Moller: Color-wise?
Maya Trabulsi: So, Pat Moller stepped in to help.
Pat Moller: 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.
Pat Anderson: And she's doing the biggest sizes. So, you know she's a good knitter.
Maya Trabulsi: When fellow resident Berniece Dufour found a lump on her breast:
Berniece Dufour: I didn't want any nonsense. I said, just lop it off.
Maya Trabulsi: Medicare covered the cost of the silicone prosthetic she holds in her hand, which usually costs more than $200 per breast.
Berniece Dufour: 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.
Maya Trabulsi: Since she was introduced to Busters, she says this breast sits in a box.
Berniece Dufour: Now I have a much better choice, and I'm sticking with it.
Maya Trabulsi: 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.
Woman: There is life after breast cancer.
Maya Trabulsi: As for Pat Anderson, in a career that dates back more than 50 years, she says Busters is her final project.
Pat Anderson: How many almost 89-year-old women can say that they're still doing something that makes a difference?
Maya Trabulsi: 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.
Judy Woodruff: And they are making a difference. What a wonderful story.