By Erika Webb
Art and humor are powerful tonics. In 2009 a funny email of a decorated bra inspired breast cancer survivor Shawn-Marie Batchelder. Seeing a desperate need among uninsured and underserved women in West Volusia for lifesaving diagnostics, she and her friend, Susan Bauerle, started Braz Cauz.
The organization creatively challenges communities to work together to raise awareness and funds to promote the prevention, detection and treatment of breast cancer.
Braz Cauz's "Of Corsets Tea Time" -- a Victorian Mid-Morning Cream Tea for Mother's Day -- will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, May 18, at DeBary Hall.
The event will feature an art auction, Victorian corset fashions and Victorian tea trivia contest in DeBary Hall's carriage house. Volunteers will serve finger sandwiches, scones and pastries as well as a selection of loose-leaf teas. Each guest will receive a party favor and booklet about Victorian tea traditions and fashions.
In addition to the embellished "art bras," Ms. Batchelder said the organization is accepting "all kinds of art, as long as it pertains to breast cancer" for the auction.
"We have sculptures, paintings -- some really beautiful paintings, jewelry, and the High Achievers (Club) from DeLand High School donated bras," she said.
A panel of medical professionals, including an oncologist, a radiologist and a plastic surgeon will participate in a question and answer session.
For lighthearted entertainment, there will be a demonstration on the history of corsets.
"It's a funny one, but it's real, it's true," Ms. Batchelder said.
She was diagnosed with the disease in 2003 at the age of 36, and has undergone eight related surgeries since. Her mother, grandmother and aunt all had breast cancer.
She said Braz Cauz has given her something to focus on in the wake of her own illness and loss of a loved one.
"I lost my mother to breast cancer two years ago. It's given me more drive to see it through," Ms. Batchelder said.
A meeting with then director of the Florida Hospital Fish Memorial Foundation, Diana Fish, resulted in Braz Cauz debuting at the annual Pink Ribbon Tea Luncheon the hospital hosts in October to raise breast cancer awareness. That collaborative effort, in 2009, yielded more than $10,000.
Since then, Braz Cauz has provided mammograms and electronic imaging services at Florida Hospital Fish Memorial for more than 100 people -- and not just women.
Ms. Batchelder said the organization has provided screening for at least one man.
She said a mammogram two years ago resulted in a breast cancer diagnosis for one woman.
"It saved her life," Ms. Batchelder said.
"Braz Cauz is really starting to become a name in the community," she added. "It's wonderful how businesses are getting involved and donating ... so many people have been touched by breast cancer in their lives."
Following her first surgery, Ms. Batchelder said she found herself being very well cared for by the doctors and other medical personnel. She also made a startling discovery.
"They were wonderful," she said, "but so many of those women weren't getting mammograms."
Central to every Braz Cauz event is the desire to memorialize those who lost their lives to the disease and honor the survivors, give them hope for the future.
"Unfortunately there are still women who don't make it and that's because they don't get their mammograms, and they find (the cancer) too late," she said.
Art Bras are created using paints and fabric, festooned with metal, beads, feathers and other objects. Some may be signed by celebrities, designed by professional artists or by survivors, their friends and families.
She said the bra that raised the most money was made of stained glass designed by artist, Kathy Truba of DeLand.
"I love how the community is getting involved and paying it forward," Ms. Batchelder said. "It's like they're wearing their internal pink ribbon year-round."
Tickets for "Of Corsets Tea Time" are $35. Seating is limited to 125 and reservations can be made by calling (386) 668-3840. Proceeds will benefit Braz Cauz and the Friends of DeBary Hall.