Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bosom buddies

The downsides of breast cancer need no telling. Even if you haven't had it, you can use your imagination: the disease eradicates your childlike sense of immortality; eviscerates your confidence in your physical well-being; transgenders you from the waist up by lopping off your hair and breasts; makes the simple act of getting dressed in the morning an eternal conundrum; and places your future employment (and insurability) forever more in jeopardy.

There are no upsides. But the experience has galvanized some women to take action. And their accomplishments on behalf of their sisters are heartwarming and ingenious. There is B, who created, devoted to sharing information about mastectomies and clothing solutions. It's got stories, photographs, helpful tips—and not only is it breast free, it's cost free. Then there's Rebel1in8, who after her unilateral mastectomy designed herself a one-of-a-kind bra and then took to repurposing T-shirts and other garments to create a line of clothing that balanced out her new silhouette—and now she shares her trove in for barely more than the cost of materials. There's Beryl Tsang, who knitted herself a prosthesis, dubbed it a Tit Bit, and published the pattern for others to follow (and knitty titties, as they've come to be known, are less expensive, more comfortable and certainly a lot more adorable than most of the competition). And now Mary Beth Kirtz has Webicized her informal boob-sharing service: Women who have unneeded new or used prostheses and bras send them to Mary Beth, and she sends them back out to women who lack insurance to pay for them. (I'm not even going to get into the swimsuit prostheses she fashions out of bath pouffies, which untold numbers of women are still struggling to replicate in a kind of mass frenzy.)

These women are members of a legion I've met in person and online who compose a creative community. Their projects are not Big Business. They are little businesses. But they're clever and homespun and make the whole awful breast-cancer thing seem somehow manageable, like something a good whip stitch could solve.

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