Steamboat Springs When Sharon Pace woke up from hours under anesthesia, the look on her husband's face said everything.
She went into surgery a few hours before for a routine lumpectomy. During a mammogram, doctors found what they thought might be cancer.
"But it was so small that they thought they could just remove a little tissue and it would be gone," she said. Doctors removed the affected tissue and brought it into the lab.
Under the microscope, they could see more cancerous cells at the edge of what they had taken.
"By the end, they took three times more tissue than they planned," Pace said. "Soon they realized that they would have to remove the whole breast." Her cancer was farther along than anyone imagined.
"It wasn't a lump," she said. "It was a chain of cells. No one could feel it."
Thankfully, the doctors decided to wait until she woke to explain the situation and offer her the option for reconstructive surgery.
Pace tells her story without tears. Her words sound distant sometimes, like she is reading a story to herself. A story she has read several times.
Pace was sitting in a deck chair looking out at her Dakota Ridge home's view of the mountains.
"The worst part was when I lost all my hair," she said. "It was Saturday morning at breakfast. It didn't fall out gradually. It came out in clumps in my hand."
Her hairdresser promised to keep her hair looking good as she went through chemotherapy.
"Instead, my husband got the dog clippers and we came out here on the deck and shaved my head," Pace said.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pace is one of many women who designed a bra up for auction at the first-ever "Bust of Steamboat" fund-raiser.
Pace majored in art years ago at the University of North Carolina and was "truly an artist" for five years after graduation.
But a life change to a career in rug and apparel design slowly took her away from her own art.
Twenty years later, she was semi-retired in Steamboat Springs and wanted to rediscover that part of herself.
"It was really hard after all that time to get back into it," she said. "I needed a class to get me started." She took a mixed-media class at the Depot.
Since then, she has joined the mixed-media group and paints regularly.
"My work now is bolder," she said.
The piece she designed for the Bust of Steamboat fund-raiser is a fabric and paint panel of a woman with a bra sewn onto her chest.
"I guess this woman is me," Pace said.
The bra is decorated with colorful netting. On the left breast, nestled between strips of purple, is one line of red.
If she didn't point it out, no one would notice. It blends so well.
"That's where my scar is," she said.
Pace's bra rendition will hang at the Depot for one week before the Oct. 4 auction.
Every woman took a different approach depending on her personal experience. The Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project provided bras. Businesses were asked to sponsor a bra for $200 and the bras were turned over to artists. The final product will be auctioned off and the proceeds will go to the Awareness Project's fund for uninsured women who need mammograms or medical treatment.
When Bust of Steamboat organizer Debbie Curd called SpringSips and Geeks Garage owner Stephanie Reineke to sponsor a bra, she said "yes" before Curd even told her how much money she would need to donate.
"I like that the money stays in this community," Reineke said. "This is my hometown. I grew up here. I'm glad the money won't be going back to a national organization."
Reineke, a broken tile mosaic artist, decided to use one of her own bras instead of taking a bra from the Awareness Project.
"I didn't want some wimpy little bra," she said.
She originally wanted to build a hi-tech piece complete with computer wires and flashing lights, but halfway through her process, she decided to keep it simple.
The Double D bra is called "Everyday Armor."
"It's something mundane that we take for granted," she said.
In her piece, the cloth has become metal. She hardened it with a mixture of white glue and water. Then she painted the rigid form a metallic copper.
The cups will be backlit inside a shadow box, she said.
The night of the auction, visitors can vote for their favorite bra by donating $1 to that bra. The winner will be awarded "Bust of Show."
The Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project held a fund drive last year and raised $10,000. This is the first year of the "Bust" event, which Curd hopes will become a signature annual event to kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
"This is a very unique idea," Pace said. "If they want a signature event, I think this could be it."