CASPER, Wyo. — Donna Woodcock first noticed the lump when she got out of the shower and lifted her arm to comb her hair.
She had yearly mammograms, but now, in the bathroom mirror, her left breast looked so strange.
Doctors confirmed breast cancer. There was chemo to reduce it and surgery to remove it and radiation to be sure.
When it was all over, Woodcock's skin felt raw and irritated. She waited a month or two before finding a prosthetic to fill in what had been taken away in the lumpectomy.
The prosthetic was made of foam. It was hot and dense, but she wore it every day for nearly four years.
At a Senior Center health fair, Woodcock, 78, met a woman with a pair of bosom buddies on display. The alternative prosthetics were made of cotton modal yarn and polyester and silk stuffing, soft to the touch.
"It was much cooler," she said. "It just felt more comfortable, too."
Inside Dancing Sheep Yarn & Fiber in Casper, a group of women meet one Tuesday evening a month to gather materials and build bosom buddies for women who need them. The small group of six has knitted the alternative prosthetics on and off for three years, donating an estimated 50 pairs to women who have had mastectomies and lumpectomies.
The project began four years ago, when Dancing Sheep owner Charlotte Kinner opened her shop. Kinner wanted to start a community project, and she found a pattern for the alternative prosthetics on one of her knitting blogs.
Kinner liked the idea, but she wondered whether it was a feasible project, or just silly. She spoke with a woman who worked in an oncologist's office who said yes, Casper had a need.
Kinner knit a pair and gave them to a friend who had a double mastectomy to test them out.
"She loved them," Kinner said.
The group of women who met for an open knit night at Kinner's store began knitting bosom buddies, with the intention of setting up a small shop in the store where cancer survivors could pick out their own pair.
"We can't keep them in here," Kinner said. The alternative prosthetics have been so popular the women now make them to order.
The materials used to make bosom buddies are light and non-allergenic, so as not to irritate the sensitive skin of breast cancer patients. The alternative prosthetics can be cleaned in the washer and dryer.
Traditional foam prosthetics can cost hundreds of dollars, Kinner said. Volunteers donate $12 for materials to make a pair of bosom buddies, which are given to mastectomy patients for free.
Losing a breast to cancer, "that goes to the core of your sexuality and your being," Kinner said. Bosom buddies are meant to return self-esteem.
Volunteer knitter Diane Combs spends part of the year in Washington state, and women there approach her about bosom buddies. She said she's amazed at the number of women she's met who have had breast cancer.
"I never would have known they were cancer survivors," she said.
Bosom Buddies of Wyoming began meeting regularly about a year ago, and volunteer knitter Cathy Jones has been knitting the alternative prosthetics ever since. Her grandmother had breast cancer. So did her stepmom, who has been the recipient of bosom buddies.
"Everyone in the U.S. knows someone who has had breast cancer," Jones said. "It's pretty important."
Kinner's the one who's there when women come into the shop looking for bosom buddies. She's seen a woman pull pantyhose out of her bra, what she'd been using as a prosthetic. She's there when cancer survivors cry in gratitude and relief.
"Once you see that for the first time, it's like, 'Oh, boy. You have to keep going,'" Kinner said.
Not long ago, Woodcock found out she had ovarian cancer. She had surgery last March, followed by chemotherapy. She started to beat the cancer just like she had her breast cancer. Today, she's regaining her strength.
Earlier this month, Woodcock stopped by Kinner's store to drop something off: a pair of bosom buddies she knitted herself.
"It was just something I could do for someone else," Woodcock said.
Because long before she was a cancer survivor, she was a knitter.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com