Through the efforts of many people and organizations, breast cancer awareness is high. It affects 1 in 8 women, and kills more than 40,000 Americans each year.
But there’s less awareness that less than 10% of all money raised for breast cancer goes to research. And just pennies of that goes to Stage IV.
AWARE is raising awareness of the lack of funding allocated to metastatic breast cancer research. There is no better local organization to take on the task.
The acronym stands for Assisting Women with Actions, Resources and Education. Each year, members partner with a local non-profit. They volunteer with that group, organize an educational event and host a fundraiser.
In past years, AWARE CT has aided the International Institute of Connecticut (human trafficking), Mercy Learning Center (education), Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes (veterans) and Malta House (pregnant and new mothers).
Their current partner is the Cancer Couch Foundation. Since 2016, the group has raised over $3 million for Stage 4 breast cancer research.
AWARE’s commitment is total, and strong. The centerpiece is a series of portraits of Westporters, by talented photographer Jerri Graham. Each image includes text, with the subject describing how she or he has been affected by the disease.
The original idea was for each subject to also make a donation to the Cancer Couch, through AWARE. The portraits would be posted on social media, then shown at a fundraiser; afterward, each subject could take her or his photo home.
But AWARE did not stop there. For greater visibility — and awareness — they’ve gone door to door. Over 80 stores, restaurants, salons and medical offices agreed, quickly and enthusiastically, to show one or two portraits inside, or in their windows.
AWARE then took photos of the merchants, chefs and doctors, and posted those online. It’s one more special way to raise awareness, of both Cancer Couch and the lack of metastatic breast cancer funding.
Winged Monkey — the first store to join the project, even before there was an image to display — offered to host a fundraiser there.
Joyride joined quickly too. Owners Amy Hochhauser and Rhodie Lorenz are all in. Instructor Mackenzie Pretty led a “Spinraiser” at the studio. She wove breast cancer statistics and information about Cancer Couch between songs — and gave shout-outs to AWARE members who were in the room, on bikes.
All 4 women posed for photos. Pretty’s mother — herself a breast cancer survivor — had her portrait taken too.
Other avid supporters: 2nd Selectwoman Jen Tooker, and Westport Farmers’ Market director Lori Cochran-Dougall.
When they began, AWARE co-directors Amy Saperstein and Nicole Gerber hoped 25 people would want their portraits taken. Well over 80 responded.
The photos are stunning. Jerri Graham — a very talented Westport portrait artist — captures subjects’ faces and feelings beautifully.
Coupled with each person’s words — about breast cancer’s impact on themselves, loved ones and/or friends — the effect is powerful and immediate.
It’s also, Gerber says, “a call to action.”
Just before Christmas, AWARE’s project took on a life — and death — of its own.
Four years ago, Rebecca Timlin-Scalera of Fairfield was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. It was re-diagnosed later to Stage IIIc, but she did not want to leave Stage IV women behind.
Timlin-Scalera started Cancer Couch, dedicated to Stage IV research. She was looking forward to having her photo taken, for AWARE.
It never happened. Just before Christmas, she died.
The Cancer Couch founder’s death stunned AWARE. In her honor, they’ve set a fundraising goal of $50,000. An anonymous donor pledged to match it.
Timlin-Scalera was not the only person unable to be photographed. A woman planned to pose with her husband. Cancer treatment interfered. Her 8- and 6-year-old daughters will take her place.
That’s one of many inspiring stories. Wilson Herrera — the Staples High School custodian/ college student who was profiled on “06880” last fall — and his brother William, a Bedford Middle School custodian — wanted to be photographed. Their mother battled breast cancer twice (and now has ovarian cancer).
The sons gave her their photo in December, as a Christmas gift.
But the photo displays in stores, restaurants and medical offices are not the end of AWARE’s involvement with Cancer Couch. They’ll be displayed in another important venue: a fundraiser on Saturday, March 7 (6 to 8 p.m., POPT’ART Gallery, 1 Main Street).
As with everything AWARE does, this is a team effort. Lori Winthrop Dockser — who lost her mother to breast cancer at a young age, and has also been diagnosed with the disease — is donating all the catering staff.
Jesup Hall owner Bill Taibe — another portrait subject — offers free cocktails on the day of the fundraiser, at his restaurant.
The fundraiser will include light bites and wine.
And — most importantly — an AWAREness that the fight against Stage IV breast cancer needs all of us.
(For tickets and more information, click here.)