Maribel Cordero spent her 52nd birthday on a recent afternoon knitting breast prostheses from spools of yarn with a group of fellow cancer survivors in Pilsen.
She said her family calls her Dolores, or “pains” in Spanish, because of her ongoing health issues — she survived uterine and breast cancer and was recently diagnosed with a hernia in her abdomen and arthritis in her knees.
Still, Cordero stops by The Resurrection Project in Pilsen every Thursday to knit prostheses for low-income cancer survivors in the Latino community who want to opt out of reconstructive surgery but can’t afford silicone models.
Silicone prostheses can cost between $100 and $300, and they can feel heavy or uncomfortable. Knitted breast prostheses cost about $7 to make and can last up to a year with proper care.
This effort is led by a breast cancer awareness and support group called ELLAS: “En La Lucha A Sobrevivir,” or “In the Fight to Survive.”
Araceli Lucio, a health coordinator at The Resurrection Project, said the group formed in 2013 to support women diagnosed with the disease and provide resources for those in need. Breast cancer is still the most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer death among Latina women in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society.
“We don’t have enough information in Spanish. Most of the women don’t know where to get the free mammograms, they don’t have medical insurance,” Lucio said. “But another barrier is our culture because we don’t talk too much about our breasts. We don’t feel comfortable asking [for help.]”
Lucio said the organization used to buy silicone prostheses for women who have had their breasts removed due to cancer, but recently partnered with the national nonprofit Knitted Knockers to help offset the costs.
The goal is to knit at least 150 pieces this year and raise money for other health services by opening a new pop-up community thrift store at 1805 S. Paulina Street in Pilsen.
Juanita Arroyo, 60, of Brighton Park, said the store is a “dream come true” for the women of ELLAS who used to fundraise by selling food and goods on street corners around the area.
She’s one of more than a dozen promotoras de salud, or health promoters, in the group that give lectures at schools, churches and neighborhood meetings in Pilsen, Little Village and Back of the Yards.
“We try to motivate other women. I get paired with other women going through the same thing I went through, and we get to talk and share information,” she said. “We support each other and we help each other. It’s like we become sisters.”
Arroyo was diagnosed with breast cancer at 49 and said she joined the group to support other women through the recovery process. She was recently tapped to help manage the pop-up store, which officially opens May 17.
The group is accepting clothing, shoes, jewelry, handbags and small furniture donations to raise money for low-income cancer survivors.
“I was so glad that I found the group … just to hang out and forget a little bit about your problem with the cancer,” Arroyo said. “Now with the little store it’s like a dream coming true. We’re very excited.”
Nereida Moreno is a producer for The Morning Shift. Follow her on Twitter at @nereidamorenos.