The dreaded "C" word is surreal news that creates a bit of an "out of body" experience. I remember when I got the phone call from my sister telling me that Mom had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.
After a mammogram returned abnormal results, Mom was diagnosed with ducal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) cancer in her left breast. Fortunately, this type of breast cancer is contained to the area where the first abnormal cells began to develop, and it isn't considered life-threatening. Detected in the early stages, this type of breast cancer can be very effectively treated.
My mother elected to do a double mastectomy even though the cancer was only in the left breast, because with this type of cancer there are often recurrences in the future. While she had a complete recovery and, two years later, is living cancer-free, it was a big scare for our whole family and a painful journey for her.
For many, the diagnosis and results aren't so positive. And while my mother is the closest person to me who's ever battled breast cancer, I certainly know many others who have. I share this story to highlight that fact: Most of us have a personal experience with breast cancer in some way. We know someone who's been there.
That's where the Breast Cancer Resource Centers (BCRC) comes in. Established in 1995, BCRC’s mission is to support and improve the lives of those touched by breast cancer. For two decades, BCRC has assisted Central Texans in overcoming obstacles related to accessing screening and treatment services, adhering to treatment plans and confronting the issues that affect quality of life. These services and programs are provided free of charge, regardless of income, ethnicity, education, sexual orientation or social support.
In order to do this, the organization raises funds with one of the most glamorous, fun and creative events around town: Art Bra Austin. The runway extravaganza, taking place on June 6, calls upon Austin’s creative community of professional and amateur designers, artists and jewelers to construct original and beautiful art bras. The bras are modeled by BCRC clients, all of whom are breast cancer survivors that range in age and are at different stages of the disease.
"For most of the models it's a transformative experience," says Ray Anne Evans, executive director of BCRC. "For most women, [having breast cancer] affects their identity, their sexuality, their entire being. But at the Art Bra event, every woman is beautiful — and she knows it. It's triumphant, for both the models and the guests. It's truly a remarkable thing to witness."
The women are treated like stars. Modeling school helps them navigate the runway, and a pre-event social hour allows spouses and gala guests to mix and mingle. Professional makeup artists and hair stylists get the models runway-ready.
Valerie Schwarzwaelder, a BCRC client and Art Bra model, says the gala has a special meaning for her as a survivor. "It’s a moment that made a world of difference in my recovery," she says. "The artists, volunteers and guests don’t just help raise money for BCRC, they help raise us up."
The fourth annual gala is a culmination of six months of planning and the juried selection process. Many entries come from professional artists, but many more come from amateurs and BCRC clients. This year 85 entries were narrowed down to the final 70 that will be shown at the runway event. CultureMap has a preview of four of this year's bras in the slideshow above.
Each art bra will be auctioned off, most through a silent auction that allows guests to bid via mobile devices. In addition, the top five bras will be sold at a live auction during the show.
The event raises about one-third of the annual funding for BCRC: The goal for the 2015 event is $350,000.
"This event is a unique way to pay tribute to the courageous and diverse women we serve," says Evans, who is also a former BCRC client. "Art Bra Austin is so important to the work we do — financially and for our clients. Everyone involved — from the artists to the models, stylists and restaurants — donates their time and services. It really is such an amazing culmination of talent and passion."
Art Bra Austin benefiting Breast Cancer Resource Centers takes place June 6 at the Austin Music Hall. Doors open at 6 pm with cocktails, food service and silent auction. The runway show starts at 7:30 pm. Early bird tickets are available now for $150; the price increases to $200 on May 1. VIP assigned seats are $200.