Making a Difference, One Breast at a Time

The writer turned illness into art.

by Judi Grove • More.com Member { View Profile }

A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, I am the wife of Bob, mother of three grown children, and grandmother to five. I lived in Tulsa all my life, then we moved to Meru, Kenya for two years where my husband built a seminary for the Methodist Church. Once back home in Tulsa, I became a licensed Life Insurance Agent and spent 23 years in the industry.

In December 2006 I had a scare with breast cancer. My mother and grandmother both had breast cancer, and after four breast biopsies in the past, my left breast started bleeding. A trip to my doctor led to a ductogram which was inconclusive. My surgeon suggested a lumpectomy with the option of a mastectomy to remove the 5 cm mass. 

Knowing that my breast might be removed or at least not be the same, I chose to make a plaster cast of my chest to keep as a memory.  May sound strange, but my breasts were a special part of me.  My husband was a "breast" man, and first attracted to me.  Not to mention that I had breast fed my children, and I just liked my "girls"!   I purchased a pregnancy belly casting kit for the materials. My plan was to paint the cast red, put a boa on it, and set it in my bedroom. But during my recovery an artist friend took the cast to decorate and covered it in mosaic stained glass. The cast was stunning! I waited 12 days for the results, due to a mix up in the doctor’s address.   But once I learned the lump was benign, I thought how beautiful cast and turned out, and how this form of art might help raise awareness throughout  Oklahoma as well. 

A spot on the local morning show was next. I shared my story and within one hour 23 women had volunteered to give a “representation” of themselves, often in honor or memory of a loved one with breast cancer.  Local artists also volunteered to decorate the casts, and "Breast Impressions" was born.  In October each year, the annual Gala and Live Auction of the breast cast art is held to raise money for Tulsa Project Woman, who provides free breast health care for those who cannot afford care or have no insurance. 

This year we were so honored to be approached by Woodland Hills Mall in Tulsa, a Simon Mall to team up to raise breast cancer awareness throughout the month of October at the mall!  Many events are planned including a Breast Cancer Survivors Fashion Show with 25 breast cancer survivor models ranging in age from 27 to 76.  The merchants of the mall are providing the clothes and doing their hair and make up.  Our Gala and Live Auction will be at the mall this year, and 28 breast casts will be on display throughout the month!

In April, 2009 I was asked by Senator Judy Eason McIntyre of Oklahoma to chair the very first Breast Cancer Awareness Day at the State Capitol.  Over 200 breast cancer survivors and their families turned out to let our state lawmakers know we want them to support breast cancer outreach.  In addition, we interviewed twenty attendees who shared their stories about how breast cancer has changed their lives, and these interviews were compiled into a DVD named "Oklahoma Speaks Out for the EARLY Act", which is now before the lawmakers in Washington DC.

In March 2008 the Green Country Roller Girls of Tulsa approached me to cast their team, and the casts were auctioned for the Young Survival Coalition Oklahoma Chapter. The event was also an educational opportunity as each woman in attendance at “The Bout Against Breast Cancer” was given a breast self exam card to take home. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association was made aware of the special bout, and now I travel the country casting roller derby teams who in turn auction the casts for their own local breast health centers. In the last fifteen months we have worked with ten different leagues!  Our goal is to hold a Bout Against Breast Cancer in all 50 states over the next five years.

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