Lauren Ward will walk the runway on June 4 at the Palmer Events Center in an outfit made entirely of paper cranes folded by her children. Norma Colyar will channel her inner Scarlett O’Hara while wearing velvet curtains, complete with curtain rod. Felisa Thibodeaux will rock it like a hurricane after months of sewing glass seed beads in the shape of Hurricane Katrina onto her bra.
This is Art Bra Austin, the fifth annual benefit for Breast Cancer Resource Center that pairs women who have had breast cancer with local artists, sometimes themselves, as they turn the article of clothing most associated with what they have gone through into a statement of triumph.
This will be model Nikki DeLeon’s second year on the runway. “It was amazing,” she says of her previous walk. “You could feel the love, you could feel the support.”
The bras are auctioned and, along with other fundraising efforts before and during the event, are expected to raise about $400,000. The money helps BCRC provide patient navigation, support groups and education services to clients in Travis and Williamson counties.
“It’s a wonderful way to raise money for an organization that helped me through my journey from the beginning,” says model Ashley Woody.
Six artists and models shared their cancer stories and the inspiration behind their bras with us.
Went With The Wind
The artists: Diana Saunders and Anissa Gahagan
The model: Norma Colyar
The bra: Mother-daughter team Saunders and Gahagan have been designing Art Bras for seven years — before the event was called Art Bra Austin. For years, they had been saying they should make a “Gone with the Wind”-style dress.
The collaboration: Saunders and Gahagan met Colyar for the first time at our photo shoot.
The cancer: In 2006, Colyar, then 46, found a lump that was missed on a recent mammogram. She had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. During reconstruction, she got an infection and ended up needing a mastectomy.
The hardest part: It’s waiting for answers, waiting for results. “It’s the not knowing,” she says.
What Art Bra means to her: “It’s an opportunity to see women who have gone through so much get out in front of people and be beautiful, be brave, they’re happy, they’re glowing, and it’s an experience they will never forget.”
The artist: Lauren Vinette
The model: Ashley Woody
The bra: Vinette, who works at Limbo Jewelry, pieced together pieces of metal to create the bra. Woody will wear zebra body paint underneath and shorts.
The collaboration: Vinette and Woody met last year when Woody wore a bra designed by Vinette. They hit it off. This year, Vinette designed her bra for Woody.
The cancer: Woody was 26 in 2014, when she had a dream that she had a lump in her left breast. She went to the doctor for a checkup and was diagnosed. “I kept that close to me,” she says. “That sounded like a crazy story.” She had a lumpectomy and 16 rounds of chemo and 35 rounds of radiation because of the aggressive nature of her cancer.
The hardest part: It’s the fear of it. “Not knowing if you’re going to make it or if it’s going to come back,” she says. She also worried about what a halt in her career in her mid-20s would do to her future.
What Art Bra means to her: “It’s a way to come together with my fellow survivor sisters and really show our families and our loved ones that gather together that we’re strong.”
Senbazuru: 1,000 Cranes
The artists: Lauren Ward and her children Emerson, 8, Carter, 8, and Henry, 10
The model: Lauren Ward
The bra: This is Ward’s fourth art bra — but the first one she’ll wear herself. It had always been a goal of hers to model one of her bras. It’s a great way to celebrate turning 40, she says.
The collaboration: She and her children folded more than 1,000 cranes in the Japanese tradition of Senbazuru to bring luck. “So nobody else gets breast cancer,” she says. As they folded, Ward would string up the cranes 30 at a time and then figure out a way to create a bra and skirt out of them.
The cancer: Ward did a baseline mammogram in 2012 at age 35 as she prepared to move her family to Dubai for her husband’s job at IBM. It revealed a lump. At first the biopsy came back as stage 0 out of four; then she learned it was stage 3. The family canceled their plans to move to Dubai and she went through a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and reconstruction.
The hardest part: “So many things were so hard… being in bed while life was going on,” she says. And even now, “it’s still a thing,” she says. Her body’s not the same, her memory’s not the same; she has trouble sleeping.
What Art Bra means to her: “BCRC was really my anchor during this and I’m so thankful to be able to spread their good word and to be able to make sure that nobody has to go through this alone, because I didn’t because of them.”
Día de los Muertos
The artist: Jenny Romano
The model: Nikki DeLeon
The bra: Romano created skulls out of beads for the Día de los Muertos theme. Everything Romano used was salvaged. She she tore up parts of dresses she found at Goodwill and raided DeLeon’s daughter’s craft box for things that sparkled.
The collaboration: Romano and DeLeon had been friends since before they went into bra-making.
The cancer: DeLeon was 39 when she was diagnosed in 2012 after finding a lump a few months before. She put off dealing with it for two months until her husband encouraged her to go to the doctor. “It was shocking,” she says. She had a lumpectomy and radiation.
The hardest part: She still sees the doctor every three months and still gets “scanxiety” — anxiety that comes with getting a scan to look for more cancer. “It’s still in the back of my mind,” she says.
What Art Bra means to her: “Walking the runway for Art Bra this year means that many women will not have to face breast cancer alone,” she says. “Giving to our community is very important to me.”
Tree of Life
The artist: Betsy Murphy
The model: Suzi Simmons
The bra: The bra is based on a Gustav Klimt painting, “The Tree of Life,” but how do you make a bra into a tree? Murphy went with an organza poncho with a sequined tree that covers a bra underneath.
The collaboration: An artist friend told Murphy of a similar program, and Murphy wanted to get involved in BCRC’s event. She knew Simmons from working across the hall from her at a preschool.
The cancer: Simmons was 38 in 2014 when her husband found the lump. “Ladies, make out with your husband; it can save your life,” she says. When she got the call with the diagnosis, she was at the bank. “I started absolutely hysterically bawling,” she says. She had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.
The hardest part: “Being vulnerable and accepting help,” she says. “Your world can change in a moment.”
What Art Bra means to her: It’s “a celebration of everything that I’ve had to go through as a cancer patient,” she says. “It’s a celebration of coming out on the other side with the amazing benefit of getting to support the charity that helped me through that battle.”
From the Storm
The artist/model: Felisa Thibodeaux
The bra: Thibodeaux spent more than 80 hours sewing seed beads onto a bra. Cancer is like a storm, she says. “It blasts through your life.” Thibodeaux found a picture of Hurricane Katrina on which to base the image on her bra. She also included the sun as a sign of hope. “You have to pick up the pieces and rebuild,” she says.
The cancer: She was diagnosed in 2013 at age 48. She later found out that her dad’s sister had had cancer when she was 30 and some cousins had been diagnosed, too. She had a lumpectomy and then a mastectomy when they found a second type of breast cancer.
The hardest part: Thibodeaux wasn’t dealing with just the cancer. She also went through a bad breakup and was helping her father who had been diagnosed with ALS — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. “Life was giving me harsh realities,” she says. “I have learned to appreciate life and the people that have helped see me through this.”
What Art Bra means to her: “I have a new lease on life,” she says. “I have moved forward with a lot of gusto. I feel fearless. I feel I can do anything now that I went through this.”