“Arty- Bra” Project promotes breast cancer awareness and education through creative designs
Call it a push-up. Or maybe a bandeau, padded or sports bra. Whatever type of bra it is, all of these “Arty-Bras” have one thing in common: they all have a story to share.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Cancer Centers of Northern Arizona Healthcare (CCNAH) are celebrating by displaying their 3rd annual “Arty-Bra” Project Oct. 7 at the First Friday Artwalk at Vora Financial on Birch Street. Those who visit the show are welcome to vote for their favorite design from this year’s newest collection of creative arty-bras.
In recent years, decorating bras has emerged as a popular method to involve local communities in breast cancer education. Starla Collins, the media relations official for Northern Arizona Healthcare, said she welcomes anyone who wants to participate and honor breast cancer survivors.
“Everyone is invited to decorate a bra to support those who are battling breast cancer and those who are breast cancer survivors,” Collins said. “Last year more than 60 bras were on display with their clever titles and extravagant and fun designs, encouraging and promoting breast health and early detection.”
Gina Harris, community outreach liaison of Northern Arizona Healthcare, said the inspiration to have an “Arty-Bra” project first came to her after a quilting group in New Jersey made some bras to support a friend that was fighting breast cancer.
“Some of the nurses at the Cancer Center came to me and said, ‘Could we do something like this?’ I said, ‘Sure, let’s try it and see what happens,’ and it has grown from there,” Harris said. “Since then the bras have been touring at events all over Northern Arizona, including Verde Valley Medical Center, First Friday Artwalk, Sedona and various health fairs and women’s events.
The bras are hidden beneath mounds of paint, ribbons, candy wrappers and aluminum foil. These symbolic bras wear the badges of grief of their makers, representing their journey of survival and dedication to all women who have shared their contingency.
Nancy Foreman, an oncology nurse at the Cancer Center who works with newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, said her primary responsibility is to provide information and comfort to new patients.
“We go through the diagnosis, what it means, surgical options, screening and genetic risk factors,” Foreman said. “I focus on education and support and I follow [the patients] through the process of diagnosis, surgery and therapy.”
Foreman, a breast cancer survivor, said she has been working for Northern Arizona Healthcare the past 16 years and has been involved in the “Arty-Bra” Project since its first show in 2009.
“I try to make a bra each year for survivors,” Foreman said. “Last year I did one with pink ribbons that covered the entire bra with patients’ names and date of diagnosis. This year I’ve got one with [the names of] everyone that comes in to the Cancer Center and [they] put down what is important to them in their lives.”
From nurses to pharmacists to NAU professors, community members have shared a piece of their lives and experience with breast cancer through Foreman’s elaborate bra. Harris said she will never forget her reaction to the first decorative bra she witnessed.
“The first bra that we received the first year that we did the event was incredibly moving,” Harris said. “It was made by a breast cancer survivor and it so told her story. So much time went into the making of it, each mirror was hand sewn on. Just so amazing . . . it literally brought tears to my eyes when I first saw it. The same artist has submitted one this year that’s made out of metal and again [is] just wonderful.”
Foreman emphasized the cure rate for breast cancer is very high. The October “Arty-Bra” Project is designed to raise general breast cancer awareness, educate women on how to recognize symptoms and where to get help.
“If we tried doing [arty-bras] in the 80s, people would have been horrified,” Foreman said. “It is nice to see the whole mentality of people change from thinking breast cancer is an awful thing and never being talked about to ‘Let’s bring it out in the open.’ There is strategy and things we can do. Having them displayed at the Artwalk helps bring awareness and helps people realize that it really touches a lot of the lives of our friends and neighbors.”