Decorating undies for a cure

Bradenton Herald – Norma K. Collins and her family have had their share of breast cancer scares.

The disease reached her niece, BethAnn. It also took hold of her grandmother, Bertha. Then there was Collins’ mom, Mary, who was diagnosed at the age of 80.

The silver lining in their stories is that they all survived.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, the Collins’ family — a big supporter of cancer research — has decided to celebrate the month in a most unusual way.

They decorated bras.

Some are covered with buttons and bows, others with stamps, shells and one with spray paint. The bras come as far as Indiana, California and Illinois, where Collins family members reside.

“It was a fun thing for a good cause,” said Norma Collins, 65, who lives in Palmetto.

The bras and others undergarments grace Village of the Arts’ Bonni Bakes as part of the shops’ month-long “Artsy Undies Show.” Proceeds made from the show’s entry fees benefit the American Cancer Society.

When Collins told her family about the art show, it turned into a family affair. Or rather, a competition to create the best work of art, Collins said.

Collectively, Collins, her five grown daughters and their children created 14 bras. They were donated by Your Best Friends’ Closet, a clothing boutique in Algonquin, Ill, where one of Collins’ daughters lives.

“Our family has an interest in breast cancer awareness and support research because it has affected our family as well as families around us in our communities.”

This year, there have been 192,370 new cases of inversive breast cancer in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. There have also been 40,170 deaths from the disease in 2009.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, and is the second leading cause of death for women after lung cancer.

Despite the haunting numbers, the U.S. boasts more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors.

In Collins’ family, the disease hit her paternal grandmother, Ethel, first. She had both breasts removed.

Her other grandmother, Bertha, had one breast removed when a lump was discovered.

Both woman later died of natural causes, Collins said.

Collins’ 94-year-old mother, Mary, had a slow-growing non-malignant tumor that turned malignant after it reached a certain size.

Not one to visit the doctor for yearly gynocological exams, she was diagnosed after a doctor’s visit for a sinus infection.

Before then, she thought the lump was a bone.

Shaken by the word cancer, Collins’ mother decided to have her breasts removed — lump and all. She didn’t want chemotherapy at her age.

“She went back two years later for a checkup and that’s the end of that,” Collins said matter-of-factly. “She’s never gone back for a check up. Her attitude is: ‘I’ve lived long enough. If I have it I don’t want to know it. If I die from it I’m ready to go.’ ”

The bras Collins’ family decorated in honor of family members includes friends who have been diagnosed with the disease as well.

When you start to look around, Collins said, breast cancer has hit everywhere.

The American Cancer Society says that women have a 1-in-8 chance of developing invasive breast cancer — when cancer grows beyond where it started — in their lifetime; the odds of dying from breast cancer is about 1-in-35. But the organization also states that the rate of deaths has dropped in part to better treatment and awareness.

Because of Collins’ family history, she has visited the doctor for yearly diagnostic monograms for the past 20 years.

“It’s worrisome,” she said. “It’s like something’s lurking there. But I feel confident with the care that I’m getting that if anything happens they’ll find it.”

With that statement, Collins knocked on wood.

She’s been lucky so far.

“I wouldn’t hesitant in a minute to have both removed,” she said. “I mean, it’s life.”

What’s scarier is the threat of seeing her daughters go through it. A lump was detected in oldest daughter, Debra, 48, when she was a teenager. It turned out to be a fibroid tumor.

With breast cancer lurking in the family, Collins made sure her two granddaughters — Kelsea, 10, and Skylar, 8 — are aware of the risks.

She talked to them about it while decorating the bras. It’s important that they know, Collins said.

Their other grandmother died 12 years ago from breast cancer.

“Even though they’re little girls, they can understand the concept of what women face,” she said.

And the fact that there is hope.

“So many people are mobilized and on board for finding a cure that I don’t think of cancer as a curse,” said Collins’ daughter, Patty Lloyd, 36, who decorated one of the bras at her Illinois home. “There’s just a lot of hope right now.”

Collins believes that women are wiser when it comes to cancer risks — visiting the doctor for yearly mammograms and conducting self-exams.

“They’re on the lookout,” she said. “I think that it’s a lot more hopeful than it used to be but (cancer) still isn’t a pretty word. I think it’s a scary fighting word. It has nothing to do with losing hair, it has to do with life.”

published Oct. 6, 2009


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