Jacqueline Engstrand, BS, RN, OCN, CN-BC, is a nurse navigator for Adventist Health Bakersfield (Calif.). She has served in this position since fall 2016, and has served as a breast cancer nurse for about four years.
Last year, Engstrand launched a local Knitted Knockers program at the hospital. Knitted knockers are handmade breast prosthesis for women who have undergone mastectomies or other breast procedures.
Engstrand spoke with NurseNavigation.com about the history of her program, how its helped patients and what advice she would provide to individuals interested in getting involved with a program.
Q: Where did you get the idea to launch a local Knitted Knockers program?
Jacqueline Engstrand: One of my patients, a knitter, told me about it early last year. Knitted Knockers is an international organization with groups of knitters all over the world. The organization started with a lady in Washington who had a mastectomy. A friend made her a pair of knitted knockers. She told others about it and that’s how the Knitted Knockers organization was established.
When I learned about knitted knockers, I thought they were a really great idea. I’ve knitted since I was a young kid. My godmother taught me how to knit when I was seven or eight years old to get me to stop playing with her knitting needles.
Fast forward to 2016. I’m eager to start a program, but realized I couldn’t knit all of the knockers myself. I set out to figure out how to get in touch with other knitters. One day, in April 2016, I opened the local paper and read that a local knitting guild in Bakersfield was having an open house. I went to the event and chatted with the ladies at that meeting. They told me they had tried to get a Knitted Knockers program off the ground in 2015, but couldn’t get any traction as they lacked strong connections in the breast cancer medical community.
I attended their next monthly meeting, joined the guild, told them all about me and appealed to them to help me to knit knockers. They were excited to help. We gave out our first knocker in August 2016. As of mid-September 2017, we had distributed more than 230 knockers. One lady in the guild has knitted about 150 knockers on her own.
The patients just love them. Every month, I go to the guild and tell the members how many knockers I gave out and share what the ladies who received knockers say about them. For the guild members, that’s the direct connection that spurs them on to keep knitting.
Q: How do you determine who receives a knitted knocker?
JE: I don’t restrict them to just my patients. They are for anyone in my local area who has a need. Someone sent them to Ohio for her aunt. I had a lady take them to her friend in San Francisco. I mailed a pair to a lady in Palm Springs (Calif.) who saw a local news story about our program. I’m happy to help anyone in need.
They’re always free to the ladies. They can give a donation if they want to, which goes toward helping promote the program, but it’s never required.
Patients can wear the knockers as soon as the mastectomy drains or is removed. They can’t do that with the silicone prosthetics they receive through insurance because their skin is too tender. Since the knockers are so light and comfortable, they can wear them as soon as the drains come out. Patients tell me it makes the biggest difference. One lady threw out her prosthetics while she was here in the clinic because she loved the knockers so much.
Q: How are you growing awareness of the program?
JE: News coverage, including this story, always helps. I’ve knitted some display knocker sets. One is in a Kaiser Permanente infusion room. They send patients over to me. I have a set in a plastic surgeon’s office and one in the other cancer center in town. As we get bigger, I keep putting displays in different places.
This year, we decided to have a “knitted knocker knit-off.” The national Knitted Knockers group has huge events for knitters and hold a knitted knocker showdown at one of those events. This gave me the idea for doing a version of it here. The national organization asks for $250 to submit an entry. We charged $25. Knitters could knit or crotchet the knocker out of any yarn they want. We have requirements for knitted knockers that go to patients, but there were no restrictions for the competition.
Entries were put on display in our cancer center from October 2–12. On October 12, we held a big event called “VIPink.” We had vendors, offered free massages, provided free makeup application, and gave out prizes. It was a fun evening to raise awareness about breast cancer and celebrate our breast cancer survivors. We also announce our knitted knockers winners.
I speak publicly about breast cancer. It’s a huge joke that wherever I go, I do my breast cancer talk and then I get my knockers out. I’m commonly referred to as the “knocker lady.”
Q: You have built an impressive, successful program in such a short period of time. What advice would you give to others who want to get involved with a Knitted Knockers program?
JE: If you’re a nurse, I would suggest looking for a local knitting guild. You can also go to a knitting/yarn store and ask if they can advertise for people to knit knockers or see if they know of a local knitting group. There are lots of knitting guilds and also lots of informal knitting groups. Yarn stores often know about those and may be willing to be a drop-off point for a local clinic.
If someone is a knitter who is not in the medical profession but interested in knitting for a program, I tell them to contact their local cancer center and ask to speak with the nurse navigator. That’s the person who knows which patients are having mastectomies and will need knockers.