Fate can be cruel. It seems to pick people out at random and turn them down a road of suffering and unhappy endings.
"You can't help but think, what did I do to deserve this? But it's just the luck of the draw," said artist and cancer survivor Georgia Taylor.
Taylor made a bra-centered art piece called "Family Notes" for the annual "Bust of Steamboat" fund-raiser. Taylor and almost 30 other artists turned bras into works of art for a live auction tonight. Proceeds will be given to the Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer in Routt and Moffat counties.
Taylor's piece is a collage of letters, decoupaged onto the body of a mannequin. The letters, written back and forth within a fictional family, tell the story of a family's struggle with their daughter's breast cancer.
Though Taylor invented the letters, she wrote them based on her own life experience.
Three years ago, Taylor's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"We thought she was going to die," Taylor said. "It was hard to see my mom suffer that much. I had to be strong in front of her; then I would go into the next room and cry."
With the letters, "I wanted to bring it home, the pain of the whole ordeal. It's not just an individual thing. It involves the whole family."
Taylor's mother recovered, and Taylor recovered from a different type of cancer.
She calls the years without cancer "intermission," because cancer came back for both women.
Taylor was rediagnosed three weeks ago, even as she was building her bra for "Bust of Steamboat."
"By the time I was finishing, I knew I was facing it again," she said. "Actually, I'm scared to death."
In her fictional letters she wrote, "I hate this. But I did have three years of no cancer before this came about. Look at the bright side, everyone says ... but it's hard to be positive right now. I again ask, Why me?"
The letters are partly hidden by a large bra, decorated by Taylor with hand-sewn sequins and antique jewelry.
"I wanted the bra to be fancy, because (breasts) are such a part of us, such a part of our womanhood. Despite if they have flaws, they should be dressed up and rejoiced," Taylor said.
"Unfortunately, all of us as women will be affected by breast cancer, whether it's your mom, sister, daughter or friend who gets it," Taylor said. "All of us need to pay attention to it. We need to do as much as we can for it, and we need to support each other."
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women; lung cancer is the first. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime.
The American Cancer Society reported 2,100 cases of breast cancer in Colorado in 2001 and 400 deaths.
The key to surviving breast cancer is early detection and treatment.
Beginning at age 20, every woman should practice monthly breast self-exams. As a woman ages, her risk of breast cancer increases. About 77 percent of women with breast cancer are older than 50 at the time of diagnosis.
At the age of 40, women should begin getting annual mammograms.
Sharon Pace's breast cancer was discovered early during a routine exam two years ago.
"I got a mammogram every year," she said. "So I was lucky. My cancer did not spread. That's the real key to the whole thing. It's curable if you catch it early."
This is Pace's second year making a bra for the fund-raiser.
Last year, she was consumed with thoughts of her own ordeal.
She kept marking the anniversaries in her head. "One year since my first chemo. One year since I finished radiation."
But this year was different. She thought more about her friend June and June's daughter, Julie. This summer, June died after a 10-year battle with breast cancer, and Julie was diagnosed with the disease.
"I thought especially of June," she said.
Her piece is called "Bust of Friends."
"At first people always ask, 'Where's the bra?'" Pace said. Then she points to the material of 40 bras from 40 different women sewn into the fabric of a handmade suit jacket.
The cost of breast cancer
The "Bust of Steamboat" raised $15,000 last year, which was used to pay for seven mammograms, two biopsies, child care, gas and travel costs for trips to Denver for radiation.
"The greatest thing is that the money is staying in Routt (and Moffat) counties for women here," Pace said. "Plus, it's such a fun evening."
Pace had insurance to pay for her two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, but radiation treatments are not offered in Steamboat, so patients must travel to Denver for the seven weeks of treatment. The travel and hotel costs are not covered by insurance.
"Getting breast cancer costs a minimum of $50,000," Pace said. "That could easily get up to a couple hundred thousand dollars.
"In my case, it hasn't come back, but it does for many women. Also, I didn't have children at home. I can't imagine the expense if you are a working mom -- paying for child care if you are not getting a paycheck. It's not just the expense of the disease. You have less coming in and more going out."
Time to laugh
Talking about breast cancer can be sobering, but the sound of laughter filled the main gallery of the Depot Art Center as visitors looked at the bras on display.
Seven women from the U.S. Forest Service office in Steamboat -- Cami John, Janet Wolff, Barbara McKown, Barbara Jones, Rebecca Chea, Michelle Brotzman and Kim Vogel -- put their creativity together and created a funny bra called "Hoot-hers."
It was John's idea, they said, "and we didn't do it on government time."
The group of women met on their lunch breaks and after work to design and implement a bra that holds two nesting owls inside a pine bough.
The branch was supplied by Tommy Edwards from the Forest Service fire team. The team was out in the woods doing a fuels reduction project.
"We described in detail the branch we wanted," McKown said. "One with multiple forks so the nesting could occur. He calls it our Dolly Parton branch."
The project took a few hours and "lots of laughing," she said. "We probably had more fun than anyone else (making our bra).
"It was just fun to say 'hooters' and bring in a little bit of the outdoors."