Inspirational stories, vivid colors and stories of survival combine for “Bodies of Courage,” an exhibit that showcases breast cancer survivors by telling their stories and providing inspiration and hope for others. The Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art will house the exhibit Oct. 25 to 31, and proceeds from the opening reception Oct. 25 will benefit The Foundation at Emory-Adventist Hospital in Smyrna.
“With October being breast cancer awareness month, we are celebrating the men and women who battle with cancer,” said Gwen Baldwin, foundation director. “Their battle might not be over, but their courage is inspirational.”
The bodies of 20 breast cancer survivors have been painted and photographed. Their stories — physical and emotional — will accompany the pieces.
“It’s just very moving to see these photographs,” she said. “It’s another way to raise awareness about breast cancer and women’s health and the battle they wage for surviving disease.”
“Bodies of Courage” artist and photographer Lisa Scholder said the exhibit helps the survivors to see a better image of themselves and have a positive outlook on life.
“It’s a positive self-empowering kind of thing that you feel afterward,” she said. “They look at themselves and they see the pictures of themselves and they are proud of them. They now have something that they thought was kind of mutilated to something that they can be proud of.”
One of Scholder’s models underwent a double mastectomy and had not taken her shirt off for anyone — including her husband — until she took part in “Bodies of Courage.”
Although Scholder has never had breast cancer, she said the project has allowed her to be able to empathize with the survivors. She said, “I really didn’t know how it affected women. I learned know how it affected women. I learned so much.”
“Bodies of Courage” is on loan from Faces of Courage, a Florida-based nonprofit organization that offers support to children, women and families affected by cancer and/or blood disorders. It was created in 2004 by Peggie Sherry, a two-time breast cancer survivor.
For six years she organized cancer camps. Year after year, one of her campers kept urging Sherry to get a mammogram.
“She saved my life,” Sherry said.
Although breast cancer did not run in her family, Sherry was diagnosed with the disease in 2002. She had lumpectomies and radiation, but the cancer returned the following year.
“My doctor said, ‘You need to take those breasts off, or you’re going to die,’” Sherry recalled. She chose to undergo breast reconstruction, which was a 13-week process. Pouches were inserted underneath her pectoral muscles and fluid was pumped into them, stretching the muscle to make room for silicone implants which were added later. Although the process was painful, Sherry’s reasons for doing so were more emotional than physical.
“I liked my breasts. You want to feel like you have your pieces back,” she said. “It’s a daily visual reminder that you have faced the devil. Until all the pieces are back for some people, you don’t feel whole again.”
Sherry is a model for the “Bodies of Courage” exhibit. She said her participation allowed her to focus on cancer in a different way.
“I never really get to spend time 1-on-1 time with the campers,” she said. “This project allowed me to spend one day with a survivor and focus on them.”
At the cancer camps, activities include massages, pedicures and manicures, crafts and yoga, as well as sessions with guest speakers. Doctors and nurses also volunteer their time and services. Sherry’s decision to be a model was a reflection in her feelings toward the campers and survivors.
“When I do anything with my campers, especially as intimate as this, I’m not going to let them do anything I wouldn’t do,” she said. “It’s a huge responsibility to deal with these cancer patients because their lives have been forever altered and their bodies have been forever altered by this horrible disease. It was vital that I experienced what they were going to experience before I asked them to do something as personal as this.”
Next year, Sherry hopes to have a book released with portraits and stories of women affected by breast cancer. Four of 18 women who participated in another art exhibit have since died. Sherry said, “We want their stories to be their legacies for their families.”
Sally Macaulay, MCMA executive director, said this type of event is a first for the museum.
“We are always on the lookout for unique and different exhibitions,” she said. “This exhibition is important to the museum because we are all about bringing awareness of the arts to the community. If the museum can help with breast cancer awareness through the arts, then we are all for hosting an exhibition. It is a beautiful exhibition and one that the Marietta community will enjoy and embrace.”
MCMA is located at 30 Atlanta St. The “Bodies of Courage” opening reception is Oct. 25 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Cost is $100 per person. Scholder and Sherry will be in attendance. For tickets, visit www.SmyrnaCares.org or call (770) 438-5233. The exhibit will be open to the public during regular museum hours with regular museum admission through Oct. 31.
In addition to the exhibit and opening reception is another event that will benefit the foundation. “A Celebration of Courage” is Oct. 25 from 1 to 3 p.m. at The Gardens at Kennesaw Mountain at 1127 White Circle in Marietta. This ladies afternoon tea will feature Linda McDonald, a three-time cancer survivor. She conducts workshops and clinics for organizations such as the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, AARP and Association for the Education of Young Children. She has also served as a delegate to the World Health Organization Congress on aging, physical activity and sports. She is also the author of “Dancing Cancer,” a children’s book. Cost is $100 per person. Tickets are available at www.SmyrnaCares.org or by calling (770) 438-5233.