Spectacular Breast Cancer Awareness Calendar Showcases Survivors’ Stories, Told with Body Paint

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Rachelle Panitz was just 32 years old and juggling two young children when her life took a drastic turn. She found a lump while breastfeeding her 6-week-old son and immediately knew something wasn’t right.

“I have no family history or genetic predisposition to breast cancer,” Rachelle says. “If I hadn’t become aware of what was normal for me while I was breastfeeding my daughter, I might not have realised the lump I found when I was pregnant with my son wasn’t supposed to be there.”

After her shocking diagnosis, Rachelle went through 18 months of breast cancer treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and hormone therapy. The experience took a physical and emotional toll on her life, and some of those wounds may never completely fade, but Rachelle has also worked hard to allow her pain to turn into something greater—an Australian breast cancer charity called So Brave.

“It’s an experience I’ll never truly get over, but it’s made me who I am today,” Rachelle says of her cancer experience. Now she’s proud to run So Brave to help change the narrative for other young women with breast cancer.

So Brave has been around for four years, and its mission has always been to raise awareness about breast cancer in young people, empower breast cancer patients and survivors, and fund breast cancer research that focuses on cancer in younger women. Throughout the year, the charity hosts a variety of educational and community events and raises money for research.

So Brave receives no money from government funding, so they’ve relied on fundraising ideas to raise money for breast cancer research and to fund their programs. One of their most creative and amazing ways for raising these funds is through a stunning calendar that features body-painted breast cancer survivors on every page.

Rachelle says the idea came about organically after she met body paint artist Wendy Fantasia at an Artful Business Conference. Breast cancer had prompted her to change her career, and she found herself branching out into entrepreneurship. At the conference, Wendy offered to paint her sometime, and the thought stuck with Rachelle, eventually blossoming into the idea to use body paint as a way to empower breast cancer survivors and turn it into a calendar to raise money for research.

Each of the 12 young Australian breast cancer survivors chosen for the calendar is painted in brilliant colors and images that represent her individual breast cancer journey.

“Our 2020 So Brave calendar is a colourful, empowering celebration of the women and of their bravery in facing breast cancer and in sharing in this body-painting experience to raise awareness and key funds to fight the disease,” says Rachelle. “The calendar also features key tips and information about breast care, as well as a snapshot of each young woman’s story.”

Rachelle is proud that the women chosen to be in the calendar each year truly exemplify the So Brave name and serve to inspire others to keep fighting to win their breast cancer battles and to keep fighting for a cure. The calendar and the organization have also helped the community come together to help each other in these battles.

“One thing that getting cancer taught me was my need to rely on others, which is hard for young women who are independent and driven like I am,” says Rachelle. “It’s hard to ask for help, but this is the time when you need to and not be afraid to ask.”

Rachelle hopes that her calendar will inspire young women to do self-exams and get checked out if they feel something isn’t right with their breasts. If you need an extra reminder each month, you can purchase the annual So Brave calendar to prompt you to check your breasts!

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?
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