So there I was, naked from the waist up, in the home of a woman I barely knew, ready to let her dress my upper half in layers of wet plaster.
"I'm doing this for a good cause," I kept telling myself.
The lady with the plaster was Judi Grove, founder of a non-profit organization called Breast Impressions, which donates breast-casting kits to women who've been diagnosed with breast cancer and will undergo a mastectomy or other breast surgery.
I let her cast my breasts for her annual fundraiser, which donates proceeds earned from the sale of "celebrity" casts to Tulsa Project Woman.
Grove founded Breast Impressions in 2007 after doctors found a lump in her left breast. They were sure it was cancer.
"I wanted a 3-D of me before surgery," Grove said. "I had my husband cast me from a belly-casting kit we got from a pregnancy place. I was going to paint it red and put a boa on it because that's just me."
Instead, a friend, adept at stained-glass art, decorated it for her, which inspired Grove to consider using "breast art" as a way to fundraise and raise awareness for breast cancer patient outreach.
Most of the money Breast Impressions raises goes to Tulsa Project Woman, an organization that has, for more than a decade, provided breast health education, mammograms and breast cancer treatment to low-income women and those without health insurance. In total, the organization has served more than 17,000 women in northeastern Oklahoma.
Grove doesn't donate money to research organizations, on purpose.
"Through what I do, hands-on, at the grassroots level, I meet women who are dealing with cancer now," she said. "A cure or finding research to prevent it is too late for them. So, what we want to do is meet the needs they have right now, after being diagnosed with breast cancer."
Although she's never been diagnosed with cancer, Grove has had six preemptive surgeries performed on her left breast that she calls her "Frankenboob." But her breasts are still an important part of her identity, she said.
"I developed early," Grove said. "I used to be all bones and boobs. I was thin and busty. I was the type of girl who would flash truckers from a convertible back in the '70s.
"And I nursed my children. My breasts are definitely part of my identity."
Facing surgery, Grove said a picture "just wouldn't do."
And so, through Breast Impressions, she provides a service that was imperative to her to other women.
Since the organization's inception, she has donated 193 breast-casting kits to women all across the U.S. as well as in Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada. Women find her online and through word of mouth. The kits are funded using donations raised at annual events, such as "Bout Against Breast Cancer," a roller derby tournament featuring the Green Country Roller Girls.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Grove is kicking it off on Saturday, Oct. 3, with an event she lovingly and laughingly refers to as "Boob-a-Palooza."
From 10am to 5pm, in the Dillard's courtyard of Woodland Hills Mall, the public is invited to gather in support of breast cancer awareness. More than 19 informational, art and educational booths will be on display; local lawmakers will be shaking hands and kissing babies; and Sparkles the breast cancer survivor dog will be handing out kisses for a buck each. Sparkles is a boxer that has survived mammary cancer and had a full mastectomy. Money earned from her smooches will go toward providing cast-making kits for Breast Impressions.
From 2-3pm, local doctors--oncologists, radiologists and surgeons--will present the latest news in breast cancer research and answer questions from the audience.
Oh, and that wet plaster I mentioned earlier? It's dry now and has been painted by Ashley Heider, arts writer for Tulsa People, who is also a darn good artist herself.
My breasts are two out of 58 (that's 29 pairs) on display throughout Woodland Hills Mall for the entire month of October. Local celebrities--media personalities and business leaders, mostly--have donated their time and physiques to Breast Impressions in the form of celebrity casts. Those casts have been painted by some of Tulsa's most notable artists, and they'll be for sale at a live auction on Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Third Annual Breast Impressions Gala.
The casts are on display on the upper level of Woodland Hills Mall, near the elevator, and in the windows of White House/Black Market, The Body Shop and Information Guest Services.
The artists who've painted them include Grace Grothaus, Daniel Gulick, Beth Downing, Marty Coleman, Josh Grove, Lauren Lunsford, Kathleen Pendergrass and Chandra Hall.
The gala, in the Dillard's courtyard again, features music by Amanda Preslar, food from Escargot's and a live auction by Jay Litchfield.
Tickets to the event, which is limited to 250 guests, are $25. All proceeds, from ticket and celebrity cast sales, go to Tulsa Project Woman.
In the past two years, Breast Impressions has donated the total $11,700 raised at its annual gala to TPW. This year, the goal is $10,000.
"That's because, with more people in this area--Tulsa and northeastern Oklahoma--affected by job loss and loss of insurance, Tulsa Project Woman needs money now more than ever," Grove said. "They're seeing more women now more than ever."
More information is available at breastimpressions.com.
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