When people think of “healing arts” they will generally think of sitting outdoors on a crisp fall day rendering an image of a stately tree with its leaves bursting with autumnal color. Yes, painting, drawing, sculpting, and other types of fine art can certainly be therapeutic for anyone, let alone a woman dealing with the deep sense of fear and loss that often accompanies a breast cancer diagnosis. But at the YWCA Princeton Breast Cancer Resource Center we have taken healing arts to a new and perhaps even unconventional level.
Breast cancer surgeries usually consist of removal of one or both breasts and or at the very least loss of part of a breast. Breast cancer patients and survivors come in all shapes and sizes and with torsos that are unique and different from that of a woman who has not experienced breast cancer. Let’s face it, a mastectomy is an amputation and with that comes a whole range of feelings. There are many women who celebrate their new shape and just as many who grieve and may even feel ashamed or embarrassed by their new form. Who would have thought that our bust casting project would help women to process this loss and begin to not only heal but to actually see themselves as whole, feminine, and beautiful again?
The process of casting a woman’s bust is an intimate and unusual experience. Our BCRC breast cancer survivors first had to become comfortable being topless in front of another survivor who would be doing the casting. The process of casting takes about one hour during which the woman would stand with her hands on her hips and be wrapped in the warm wet plaster strips. It was as if the plaster was magic. These women would begin to share details about their cancer, their relationships, their feelings about their bodies, their fears, and sometimes, sadly, their very low self-esteem after breast cancer. As the process continued and the women were fully wrapped and then “released” from the mold, the reactions were remarkable. Seeing their torsos in sculpture forced them to actually see their beauty not in spite of the breast cancer but BECAUSE of the breast cancer.
The next step in the project involved channeling our inner artists. In collaboration with the Arts Council of Princeton the women who have been cast are now working on embellishing their busts with paint and other media such as collage. Many of these women have evolved through this process in ways we never could have predicted. Having the opportunity to step out of their comfort zones and see themselves in a new light is amazing. Several of these women felt they had no artistic ability and were hesitant to accept the challenge of creating art out of their torso casts. Another hurdle that so many jumped in incredible ways. With the guidance of the arts council their busts are truly unique and special pieces.
This bust casting project has taken the BCRC on a healing journey, one that was not only unexpected but one that has led many to a place of peaceful acceptance of their new and remarkable bodies. We are looking forward to seeing them in their final stage at an art show we will be holding in October! Look for details on the event coming soon!