Art Bras celebrate life, tell women’s breast cancer stories

A bra. For the preteen girl, it’s a rite of passage. For a woman, it can be both a functional undergarment and a flirtatious device. For the nursing mother, it’s a piece of fabric that comes between her and feeding her baby.

For the women who will wear the pieces of art that will grace the runway and floor at Art Bra Austin on Saturday, it’s a symbol of courage and hope. They survived breast cancer.

“You get up on the runway in bra that’s a work of art … it’s a whole other kind of courage,” says Ray Anne Evans, Breast Cancer Resource Centers of Texas executive director.

The more than 70 bras these women will wear will help the centers provide patient navigation, support groups and education services to clients in Travis and Williamson counties. BCRC is celebrating its 20th year, though the art bra fundraiser evolved into what it is about three years ago.

Some of the bras were created by artists or clothing designers. Some of them, the models made themselves.

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The bras are auctioned and, along with other fundraising efforts before and during the event, are expected to raise about $300,000.

Attendees get to see the work of the resource centers in action, Evans says. “All these women, wearing these bras. Every woman can speak toward what we do. Multiply that by 2,000 a year. It’s the tip of the iceberg.”

We talked to a handful of models who shared their cancer stories and the inspiration behind their bras.

Christin Sherburne

Bra: “Super Girl”

Artist: Herself

Her cancer: Sherburne, 36, was diagnosed in January 2013. She’s a fourth-generation cancer survivor and a third-generation breast-cancer survivor.

Even though she knew there was a strong possibility she would get cancer, “No one ever thinks, ‘It’s going to happen to me.’ It’s still a shock. You’re not ever prepared for that.”

She’s had a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and a hysterectomy.

The bra: She found a blue bustier and added sequins in an S shape and a satin-and vinyl-blend cape. “I wanted it to sparkle, to represent life and happiness.”

Her inspiration: “It has become so important to me to honor the women who are fighting cancer. They are Superwoman, and they can do it.”

Her message: “I can’t stress enough how amazing the Breast Cancer Resource Centers are and how amazing they are for women.” While her family was her emotional support, “They were my logical support.”

Darla Breazeale

Bra: “The Armor of Her Faith”

Artist: Randee Ketzel

Her cancer: Breazeale, 51, found out she had breast cancer right after her 50th birthday in November 2013. She had a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation as well as a hysterectomy. She remembers getting her diagnosis by phone while at work. “I just sat there in shock,” she says. “Then the tears began.”

The bra: Ketzel had always wanted to do an art bra and approached Breazeale, who was a co-worker of her husband. Ketzel took the words of Breazeale’s story and stamped individual words into clay. The words move around in a circle around the bodice. You can follow phrases like, “My doctor called.” “I had breast cancer.” “I cried.” “I began chemo.” “I began radiation.” “I could not eat.” “I needed God’s grace.” “I was blessed.” “The journey has become easier.”

Her inspiration: “This bra is going to pay it forward,” she says. When she was in between reconstruction phases, she went to Victoria’s Secret because her regular bra wasn’t fitting. She explained to the saleswoman what she needed. Another woman overheard her and had recently lost a friend to breast cancer. She left $100 gift certificate for Breazeale. “I cried then.”

Her message: Breazeale didn’t think of herself as a crier before breast cancer, but after the double mastectomy, she found she couldn’t get past the sadness. “I saw myself in the mirror and got so sad,” she says. Finally she realized she had to get angry and then turn to her faith and to scripture for comfort.

She’ll use that faith to get through this modeling gig. “Naturally, I’m scared out of my mind that I’m going to trip,” she says. “My middle name should have been Grace, because I can trip over anything. … I’m so happy to go out there and show I’m a survivor. I can overcome.”

Beverly Barr

Bra: “Day of the Living”

Artist: Herself

Her cancer: Barr, 60, was diagnosed in November 2013. She had lost her husband to lung cancer just before being diagnosed. She had a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. Her incision had to be redone after it had trouble healing. “It’s a big dern deal,” she says. “Treatment is not easy.”

The bra: She attached white stripes, colorful flowers and ribbons, a red heart and a sign, “Girls just want to have fun,” to a black corset.

Her inspiration: It’s inspired by the Mexican holiday of Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead, but she wanted it to be about the living. “It’s a celebration,” she says. “I wanted to celebrate the living and the warriors that have gone before me and will go after me.”

Her message: When she wears this bra, she says, “It will be with pride. It gets me emotional just thinking about this. I have been through fire.” Yet as difficult as the healing has been, she still cracks a joke. “You wouldn’t believe what I went through to finally get a modeling gig.”

Florence Hite

Bra: “Sea of Hope, Oceans of Gratitude”

Artist: Herself

Her cancer: Hite, 62, was diagnosed in August 2014. She had a lumpectomy and radiation. She was extremely private about it. “It felt like I had a secret…” she says. “This Art Bra Austin thing has forced me to go public.” She wrote her “coming out letter” to announce her diagnosis and that she’d be participating in Art Bra Austin at the end of April.

The bra: Hite is a former jewelry designer. She knew she wanted to do something with abalone as the cups and in a headpiece as well as colorful beads.

Her inspiration: The emotions, she says, “ran as deep as the ocean. … the emotions, for me, came in waves.” She describes the diagnosis as “unbridled fear,” but then, when she got a clearer picture of how early the cancer was caught, she experienced hope and gratitude. The water metaphor was like the tears. “Upon being diagnosed, there were a lot of tears,” she says.

Her message: “My husband wanted me to do something lighthearted and fun,” she says of creating the bra to represent her cancer. “This wasn’t fun for me at all.”

Erin Finney

Bra: “Metropolis”

Artist: Candice Johnson

Her cancer: Finney, 41, was 8 when her mother was diagnosed, but many of the details were kept hidden from her. She was 39 when she was diagnosed in August 2013. She had chemotherapy and a double mastectomy.

The bra: This is the second year she and her friend Candice Johnson have collaborated on an art bra. They both liked the art deco look, and this bra is inspired by the 1927 film “Metropolis.” Her bra also has a companion fan-shaped gold headdress.

Her inspiration: Finney, who describes herself as a boots-and-jeans kind of girl, gave Johnson full creative control. “She ran with it,” Finney says.

Her message: Last year, she remembers being on a natural high days after the event. “Being a model is the most life-affirming thing I can think of,” she says. “These are women that are planning to live. It’s a celebration of life.”

Zelda-Rina Botha

Bra: “Queen Esther”

Artist: Herself

Her cancer: Botha, 48, was diagnosed in May 2014. Even though she knew her mother was a breast-cancer survivor, she put off going to get a mammogram for 13 years. Once diagnosed, she put off treatment until after her summer vacation. She now knows how ridiculous she was. Then she had a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy.

The bra: She was very angry when she was diagnosed, but started doing art, including making this bra, as part of her therapy. She bought a pink bra at Victoria’s Secret and $100 worth of fabric and just started covering it and then adding pearls and roses. She’s gone on to create more bras.

Her inspiration: She thinks of Queen Esther from the Bible, who was hiding her identity. “This group of women, they are people that claimed their lives again. They are taking their identity back.”

Her message: While her mother did not talk about her cancer, Botha is sharing her story, especially with her three daughters, whom she’s encouraged to get screened for genetic mutations so they can make informed decisions. “I want to show them that they can walk through it with hope.”

Harper Ray

Bra: “Hot Flash”

Artist: Carlyn Ray

Her cancer: Ray, 48, was diagnosed in July 2013. “I had the full meal deal,” she says: chemotherapy, a mastectomy and radiation. “I’m a healthy, athletic person; no way would I ever get sick,” she says. “I was pretty shocked the lump I was feeling was cancer. I was so sure it wasn’t cancer.”

The bra: Her sister, Carlyn Ray, is a glass blower, so the stainless steel crocheted bra incorporates pieces of red, yellow and orange glass. It’s named “Hot Flash” because of the hot flashes that come with treatment as doctors shut off estrogen production. Carlyn Ray had wanted Harper Ray to do the art bra last year, but Harper Ray didn’t feel like she had the strength.

The inspiration: Ray really values her newly diagnosed support group that BCRC set up for her. They still meet monthly on their own for dinner. “It’s the greatest thing to be around women with a shared experience,” she says. “You can lay it all out there and tell them how bad it sucked. You get sick of hearing yourself complain to them when talking to your family.” With the support group, “I could say whatever I wanted and not feel bad about it.”

Her message: “For me, being able to put on a piece of art like this and wear it proudly with my head held high represents how strong I feel inside after being battered down.”

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