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Cancer survivor Laurie Tierney, left, and Avon Lake Public Library Communications Manager Shea Alltmont with the special yarn to be used in creating 250 Knitted Knockers. Each holds a pair of prosthetics. 

Laurie Tierney laughs, smiles and jokes while talking about her recurring battles with breast cancer.

But while the Avon Lake resident is clearly upbeat and positive, breast cancer can have serious ramifications. Even after beating cancer, many survivors are faced with a new problem, a need for prosthetics.

One solution is provided by an international charitable organization known as the Knitted Knockers Support Foundation, headquartered in Bellingham, Washington.

Tierney, 80, a longtime member of the Friends of the Avon Lake Public Library, was first diagnosed with cancer in 2011. She went through 10 weeks of radiation before undergoing a lumpectomy.

“I recovered fairly well,” she said.

The cancer returned last year. The second bout led to a full mastectomy. Surgeons accidentally punctured a lung during the surgery and Tierney spent several weeks in intensive care. She eventually recovered enough to seek out a prosthetic breast from a specialty shop.

“They handed me 5 pounds of plastic and told me to strap it on,” Tierney said, adding the prosthetic was heavy, hot and intolerably uncomfortable.

“I took it off, threw it in the closet and told people I would wear it again if the queen of England ever invited me to tea,” Tierney said.

Tierney’s daughter-in-law, Sheila Tierney, helped her cover the effects of the mastectomy during the winter with heavy sweaters.

“So, during the colder months I was fine,” Laurie Tierney said. Problems arrived with warmer weather.

Tierney has a condition known as supernumerary. She has a smaller breast located above what was her normal breast, now lost to cancer and mastectomy. Her daughter-in-law again joined her in looking for clothes that might help mask the effects of her cancer. Tierney tried on a few items.

“When she stopped rolling around on the floor in laughter, she said to me, ‘This just isn’t going to work,’” Tierney said. She added that to describe her as looking lopsided was a huge understatement. Her supernumerary did not help the situation.

Still seeking a solution to her problems, Tierney came across the website for Knitted Knockers. She ultimately received a knitted prosthetic, which she described as lightweight, well fitted and comfortable.

“I couldn’t be happier with it,” Tierney said.

After receiving her own prosthetic, she approached the library’s knitting group, Stitch Niche, about producing its own Knitted Knockers to help local breast cancer survivors in need.

Library spokeswoman Shea Alltmont was more than happy to get involved with the Stitch Niche project, applying for and receiving a Lakeland Community Foundation Endowment Fund Mini-Grant of $5,500 The money went toward purchasing 250 skeins of special yarn, approved by the Knitted Knockers organization for use in making prosthetics.

Yarn used must be lightweight and not cause irritation to the skin it will be in close contact with for long periods of time, Alltmont said.

Last week she began to put together 250 Knitted Knockers Project Kits to be made available to library volunteers. Each kit includes everything needed to create a pair of prosthetics, from a pattern to knitting needles.

The knitted prosthetic somewhat resembles a bag. Volunteers will return the items to the library, where they will be filled with a soft cotton-like substance known as PolyFiberFil. The finished product can be adjusted for size.

With an event dubbed Knockin’ around the Christmas Tree, the library and the Stitch Niche group held what Alltmont called a soft opening of the project Monday evening. She said volunteers can still pick up kits at the library. Tierney said a talented knitter or crocheter probably can complete a set of Knitted Knockers in about two hours.

“I first heard about Knitted Knockers a few years ago and we tried to make a few,” said Valerie Dillard, 60, one of the organizers of Stitch Niche. She had praise for Tierney.

“She’s just very inspirational,” Dillard said, commenting on how open Tierney is about what she has gone through.

“She gives a face to it all,” Dillard said.

The Knitted Knockers project might seem an unusual one for a public library. Alltmont notes the Avon Lake library rents bikes, offers music lessons and other seemingly unconventional programs. She added that while there are lots of puns and jokes floating around the library regarding Knitted Knockers, they solve a serious problem.

“These help women who have suffered through cancer or other problems feel pretty again,” Alltmont said. “There are definitely self-esteem issues involved here.”

For more information about the Knitted Knockers Project, email Alltmont at salltmont@avonlake.lib.oh.us or call 440-933-8128, ext. 244.

Contact this reporter at tcorrigan@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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