Health

ArtBra in Southington helps fund integrated medicine programs in fight against cancer

ArtBra in Southington helps fund integrated medicine programs in fight against cancer

SOUTHINGTON — Cheers and cheers erupted from the guests at the ArtBra Fundraiser hosted by After the Storm Inc. when the first model came down the catwalk in a bra and skirt outfit inspired by the Roman hunter Diana.

The outfit was completed with a toy arrow and a bow and the model posed at the end of the walkway, going so far as to point her toy gun at the audience. She continued to entertain the public as the auctioneer began.

“This isn’t a synthetic bra. It’s an artificial outfit,” he exclaimed as he enticed onlookers to increase the bid, which quickly reached a winning bid of $550.

All bras are made and donated by local artists. From a purple unicorn bra to a bra featuring working toy helicopter fans, the elaborate wearable art is inspired by the strength and courage of cancer survivors. As the evening wore on, the bids for bras went higher and higher. The last bra, a carnival-inspired Mariposa Ruby bra, sold for $3,100.

ArtBra Fundraiser was a half-hour and half runway show that raises money to fund local free integrated medicine programs for cancer survivors by auctioning unique, handmade, themed bras at the Aqua Turf Club on August 4.

At the time of publication, Willett had no total earnings from ArtBra 2022. Their last show hosted in 2019 brought in $60,000.

“Unless you’re diagnosed, I don’t necessarily think people realize the benefits of integrated medical services,” said Christine Willett, founder and president of After the Storm Inc. “If you’re not personally connected to a survivor, you probably don’t understand the benefits of sound therapy or journaling or equine therapy and how important it is to those going through treatment.”

Take care of the person

The American Cancer Society estimates Connecticut will have 22,810 new cancers by 2022, with the most common being breast cancer, 3,550 new cases and 420 deaths.

Willett was diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer in 2007 while pregnant with her second son.

As part of her treatment at the Cancer Center at Middlesex Hospital, she participated in several free clinical trials for Integrated Medicine, a holistic approach to cancer treatment that aims to treat a patient’s mind and body while fighting cancer. Services may include acupuncture, nutritional counseling, yoga, therapeutic arts, and journaling.

Willett said it felt like her head was “straighter” as she left the integrated medicine session.

However, Willett acknowledged that she had the privilege of getting these services for free.

“It’s hard when you’re undergoing treatment and you want to feel better and you know how to feel better, but then you’re trying to shell out $60 to $90 a session to make that happen,” she explained.

Willett founded After the Storm Inc in 2009. to fund integrated medicine programs in local hospitals so that other cancer patients and survivors can feel the peace she experienced during her treatment. She said they have helped more than 7,509 cancer survivors.

All proceeds raised will go to five organizations: Middlesex Cancer Center, MidState Medical Center, Griffin Health Hospital, Bristol Hospital and the ECHO Cancer Foundation. Each center offers a number of integrated medical services to individualize cancer care.

Survivor Empowerment

A breast cancer survivor, Lara Hajek has modeled for ArtBra since 2018 and said it’s an experience like no other because it pushes her out of her comfort zone.

“I don’t even wear a bikini on the beach,” she said. “So you have to wear these amazing artificial bras and you just walk down the catwalk and have fun with them.”

Hajek was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017 at the age of 42. Over the following year, she underwent numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation and a double mastectomy with reconstruction surgery.

On her first runway, Hajek was walking with one of her friends who is also a survivor.

“From the show and talking and doing [the runway] with other survivors they know what you’ve been through and they understand and it’s the same with me; I understand them,” she explained. “I will never forget that first time I was on that stage, that special moment and the confidence to do this.”

This year, Hajek came out dancing TikTok’s Jiggle Jiggle and wearing a casino-inspired bra with dice on the nipples. She said her 18-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son spent weeks trying to teach her the viral dance.

“If someone gets this on video, it better go viral,” Hajek said with a laugh. “If I’m trying to perfect it all this time, it better go viral.”

Six of the 15 runway models are cancer survivors, an aspect of the show that Willett is very proud of.

“We really wanted cancer survivors to go upstairs [on the runway] and own and model their own creations or model creations that people have made for them,” she said.

men’s show

To wrap up the auction, John Mayo, Willett’s colleague and designated workman, took to the runway wearing a large cone bra made of red Solo cups with a matching booze helmet and cup collar.

Four other men followed, all wearing bras inspired by famous country songs from Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” to Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried.”

As the men passed Mayo’s jutting cup breasts, he poured small slugs of beer into Solo red shot glasses and passed them around. Each model got the chance to parade down the catwalk and twerk to the song that inspired the bra.

“It’s incredible, it’s fun and it’s embarrassing at the same time,” he said.

This is Mayo’s third year participating in the infamous man show. He was inspired to join after working with Willett at Ridge Road Elementary School and hearing her story.

The mastermind behind the men’s show was Willett’s husband, Bruce, as he thought it would be a good way to keep the audience entertained and raise more money.

“When you go to a fundraiser, you usually don’t auction bras for men from a catwalk,” she said.

This year, the men involved were Willett’s husband, her 18-year-old son, one of her high school friends, a former student and another teacher colleague.

Onstage, Willett shared a tender moment with her son, who was three at the time of her diagnosis. She proudly exclaimed that although this was her son’s first runway walk, he had made more money than his father had ever done.

Health Equity Reporter Cris Villalonga-Vivoni is a member of the Corps at Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. For more information about RFA, visit reportforamerica.org. Villalonga-Vivoni can be reached at [email protected] or 203-317-2448.