Pat Anderson's love of knitting began as a child, when her mother and grandmother taught her how to make hospital socks for injured World War II soldiers.
Eight decades later — following a long career as a professional textile artisan and teacher — Anderson is back to using her talents to help others in need.
She volunteers her time to knit free, handmade breast accessories for women to wear following a mastectomy at Sharp Memorial Hospital. Called "Busters," the soft, washable prosthetics mimic the shape and feel of a real breast and can be worn inside a regular bra. They come in various colors and cup sizes.
"I'm 87 years old and it's really gratifying to know that I still have something to offer that improves someone's life," Anderson says. "It's so wonderful when women tell me they feel normal again."
Anderson, a breast cancer survivor who had a double mastectomy nearly 15 years ago, is one of her own customers. She loves wearing the Busters and says they make her feel taller, thinner — and younger. The instruction sheet she provides to clients includes tips she's personally found useful, such as tucking the Busters in the refrigerator between wearing to stay cool when it's hot outside.
"I thought it would be a lot less stressful," Anderson says about losing her breasts. "But there is a very real psychological impact on women and their partners. This is such a simple, neat way to help with the healing."
Anderson learned about knitted breast prosthetics several years ago from her daughter, Kristin, who knew her mother was looking for a project following retirement from her Escondido textile business, SpinShuttle Studio. At first, Anderson followed a common pattern used by other breast prosthetic makers, but soon found ways to improve upon the design and construction.
In early 2017, she reached out to Sharp Memorial Hospital to see if there was a need for the Busters — they can be worn soon after a mastectomy surgery because of their light weight and softness.
"I usually let patients know about the Busters when I see them the day after their surgery," says Sue Robinson, a breast cancer nurse navigator at Sharp Memorial. "When I pull my sample Buster out, they are surprised at how soft it feels. It often makes them smile. And they are always touched that someone was kind enough to donate their time and efforts to them."
It takes Anderson about eight hours to make a pair of Busters. Women can add or remove some of the poly-fiber stuffing inside the accessories to customize the shape of the breast, making Busters a great solution for women going through reconstruction, Anderson says. In total, she's shipped nearly 700 pairs of Busters to grateful women in San Diego and around the country.
Anderson, who calls her clients the "Sisterhood of the Boobless Wonders," provides the Busters for free, but says she is always seeking donations to help with the mailing costs, which can be double the cost of the yarn and stuffing.
She's also recruited a team of knitters (they call themselves the "Buzoomers") to help her fulfill the orders — all are fellow octogenarians and breast cancer survivors.
"This is the perfect project for me, as if I were preparing to do this for my whole life," Anderson says. "I'm going to knit as many Busters as I can for as long as I possibly can."
To order a set of Busters from Anderson (including re-orders), email her directly at email@example.com.
For the news media: To talk with Pat Anderson about her handmade Busters breast prosthetics for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.