Breast­less and beau­ti­ful – Cal­en­dar to raise funds for N.L.ers with can­cer

The Pilot - - Sports -

Kerry Churchill re­calls the ex­act mo­ment when she knew she had the same can­cer that killed her aunt at age 52 — the same can­cer that’s prompted doc­tors to tell her mother she has months to live, and her­self a cou­ple of years.

She was on the beach in Au­gust 2015 when, she said, “It felt like my breast was go­ing to break open the skin was so tight.”

“I touched it and every­thing in me knew I was the first one in this gen­er­a­tion to have the fam­ily af­flic­tion.”

Since she was first di­ag­nosed that year, Churchill has had nu­mer­ous op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing a dou­ble mas­tec­tomy, and many rounds of chemo­ther­apy.

“It was just one thing af­ter another. It was a se­ries of, I think, six surg­eries that year… but I was still smil­ing.”

At one point when she thought for sure she was dy­ing, she told her aunt who was vis­it­ing that her will was in the closet and asked her to make sure her chil­dren knew “how much momma loves them.”

At that time, she was also try­ing to help take care of her own mother while rais­ing her chil­dren as a sin­gle mother.

She went six weeks with­out earn­ing any money at one point, af­ter us­ing up all of her sick leave and em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance.

“It’s hard enough when you’re fight­ing for your life … I got through it be­cause I have a beau­ti­ful fam­ily, but I was think­ing, gosh, there’s peo­ple out there who don’t have any­body. I see it in the chemo room. I’ve never gone to chemo alone, but you see peo­ple who are alone.”

For a while Churchill was in re­mis­sion. Then, this past Jan­uary she was en­joy­ing a movie at the cin­ema with her son — he was leav­ing the next day to do a tour with the mil­i­tary.

Sit­ting in the theatre, some­thing told her to touch her neck. She felt a lump.

“The mon­ster had re­turned, and my son had to leave the coun­try know­ing that I had metastatic ter­mi­nal breast can­cer.”

For Churchill, that meant more time away from work and liv­ing on very lit­tle money, as well as six months of chemo­ther­apy. Doc­tors told her the av­er­age life­span for peo­ple with this di­ag­no­sis is two to three years.

In spite of the doc­tors’ prog­no­sis, Churchill said she’s “gonna kick this to the curb” — but she also wants to make her time count.

That’s why she and a group of women spent their Sun­day af­ter­noon May 27 pre­par­ing for a spe­cial kind of photo shoot — for a 2019 cal­en­dar called “Breast­less and Beau­ti­ful.” May 27 was the first of sev­eral shoots fea­tur­ing mod­els who have or are in re­mis­sion from breast can­cer.

The cal­en­dar sales will go di­rectly to the Dr. H. Bliss Mur­phy Cen­tre Pa­tient and Fam­ily Sup­port Fund — money that’s avail­able to all can­cer pa­tients in the prov­ince.

The women hope funds raised through the cal­en­dar sales will help ease for oth­ers the bur­den they’ve come to know too well. Peo­ple of­ten speak about the phys­i­cal and men­tal chal­lenges can­cer brings, but the fi­nan­cial bur­den is equally as dif­fi­cult for many fam­i­lies.

The idea for the cal­en­dar came about through a chance meet­ing.

Dana Metcalfe’s Salt Box Stu­dio sa­lon in St. Philip’s hosts ‘Karma Days’ — a day for peo­ple with can­cer to get pam­pered.

Churchill came to one of those Karma Days while she was in re­mis­sion, and the two women kept in touch.

Not long af­ter, Churchill found the lump in her neck and she called Metcalfe.

“This is where Breast­less and Beau­ti­ful was born,” said Metcalfe. “Two women in a base­ment, both sin­gle mothers, and one who’s dy­ing wish was to cre­ate a cal­en­dar, leav­ing a legacy of sup­port for pa­tients that can­not af­ford the side ef­fects of can­cer.”

The pho­tos in the cal­en­dar will tell sto­ries of in­spi­ra­tion and cel­e­bra­tion.

The ini­tial plan was for Churchill and her mother to be pic­tured in an over­sized bird’s nest to sym­bol­ize re­birth from their strug­gle, but can­cer has a way of changing plans.

Sun­day morn­ing, Churchill’s mother slipped in the tub.

“Her ribs are so thin they break all the time and she was in too much pain (to come),” said Churchill as her eyes brimmed with tears.

Metcalfe ap­plied Churchill’s makeup, then had to wipe the foun­da­tion off and start over with a new, more mois­tur­iz­ing kind be­cause Churchill’s skin is so dry from the chemo­ther­apy.

The other women in the room nod­ded in un­der­stand­ing, and they chat­ted about some of those of­ten not-talked-about re­al­i­ties of liv­ing with can­cer.

“I’m not vain, but it’s hard to look in the mir­ror when you’re bald and your breasts are gone,” said Churchill. “I said, I’ve got to do some­thing that will help love and up­lift other women like me.

“I just want to make as much money as pos­si­ble to give to that fund, and I hope that (the cal­en­dar) shows women that they’re beau­ti­ful no mat­ter what life throws at them, and that you’re loved.

“All of these women here, we’ve all shared the same crappy jour­ney — can­cer in any form is crap. The whole jour­ney is hard men­tally and emo­tion­ally, and I hope that this just gives peo­ple hope. Like, look at us; we’re here and we’re dress­ing up in dresses and wigs and we’re hav­ing so much fun, and we’re beau­ti­ful whether we have hair or not — whether we have breasts or not.”

Metcalfe said the group is seek­ing help from the com­mu­nity in the form of part­ners and spon­sor­ships, and it’s still look­ing for two more mod­els who have or have had breast can­cer.

Peo­ple can get in touch by email­ing info@breast­lessand­beau­ti­ful.ca and by lik­ing the Face­book page of the same name.

Pre-or­ders for the cal­en­dar will soon be avail­able on­line at www.breast­lessand­beau­ti­ful. ca, and it’s sched­uled to be in stores Septem­ber 29.

Or­ga­nizer Dana Metcalfe says the cal­en­dar wouldn’t be pos­si­ble with­out the many vol­un­teers who are help­ing to make it a re­al­ity. Pic­tured are vol­un­teers for Sun­day’s pho­to­shoot (from left): Set de­sign­ers Joanne Shears and Joanne Mur­rin, pres­i­dent of Women in Net­work­ing Kind­ness (WINK) Dana Metcalfe, vice-pres­i­dent of WINK Kathy Pretty, pho­tog­ra­phers Amanda Dinn and Kit Sora.

ALL PHO­TOS BY JUANITA MERCER/THE TELE­GRAM

Kerry Churchill (right) has her makeup ap­plied by Dana Metcalfe for the 2019 Breast­less and Beau­ti­ful cal­en­dar photo shoot on Sun­day. - Juanita Mercer

Sis­ters Diane Whitty and Brenda Cod­ner are both in re­mis­sion from breast can­cer. They’ll be fea­tured in the cal­en­dar with an Alice in Won­der­land style tea party set­ting, de­pict­ing a cel­e­bra­tion of be­ing can­cer-free.

WINK vice pres­i­dent Kathy Pretty helps Churchill put on some sparkling jew­elry in prepa­ra­tion for the pho­to­shoot. “I feel like a princess,” smiled Churchill.

The dress and tiara worn by Churchill for her cal­en­dar photo, which will fea­ture her in an over­sized bird’s nest to sym­bol­ize re­birth from strug­gle.

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