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Cancer Survivors Celebrate Life With Body Art

A group of uninhibited cancer survivors agreed to have their bodies painted for a book to be published by Faces of Courage this spring.

It was a suggestion that would send most women running for the nearest door.

However, when Peggie Sherry, founder of Faces of Courage introduced the wild idea of having breast cancer survivors photographed in full body paint for a hardcover book, women lined up to volunteer.

Formed eight years ago by Sherry, a two-time breast cancer survivor, Faces of Courage is a Tampa Bay nonprofit organization that offers free camps and events for women and children with cancer.

At the suggestion of body-painting artist Lorrin Wagner of Valrico, Sherry broached the idea of the body-painting session at the annual Cancer Retreat for Women Sept. 7-9 at Rotary's Camp Florida in Brandon, attended by 76 women.

"We're always looking for new ways to raise funds for our camps, which are free to the participants," explained Sherry. "I loved Lorrin's idea of getting together a group of artists and models for a weekend body-painting session. But I wasn't sure if I'd get any volunteers."

She said she was surprised by the response.

"I had 20 slots and I filled them right away," said Sherry.

"I was the first in line," said Linn Lustig of Brandon, a breast cancer and lymphoma survivor. "I'm an old hippy. I used to do a lot of face painting. So this was right up my alley."

"I had no problem doing it," said two-time breast cancer survivor Andrea Adair of Lakeland, who underwent a mastectomy in January. "I saw it as a chance to be a champion for other women and raise funds for a foundation I believe in."

"I'm a very grateful cancer survivor and, when Peggie suggested the idea, I said, 'I want to do that,'" said Paloma de Jesus of Spring Hill, who was diagnosed with both breast and bone cancer three years ago. "I put it on my bucket list, right above getting a tattoo, which I plan to do in January."

The body-painting session took place Sept. 22-23 in a Brandon storefront with windows discreetly covered in pink curtains.

There, volunteer body-painting artists from throughout Tampa Bay spent hours transforming the scarred bodies of cancer survivors into works of art.

"One woman had never shown anyone her reconstructed breasts, not even her husband," said Sherry. "After the body-painting session, she now views her body as beautiful. It actually transforms the way the women feel about their bodies. Everyone is beautiful with artwork."

"The painting helps them feel beautiful," said New Port Richey radiologist Dr. Howard Kahen, president of the board of directors of Faces of Courage. "It's a way to honor these women who have been through so much. And, in turn, what they are doing inspires us. It's rewarding to see so many women who appreciate life."

When Oldsmar breast cancer survivor Sandy Callin walked into the makeshift art studio to have her body painted, she was prepared to ask the artist to incorporate her favorite colors, purple and pink, into her body painting.

However, before Callin could even express her preferences, Wesley Chapel body-painting artist Wyndy Olson whipped out a sketch she'd made the day before, incorporating angel wings in shades of purple and pink.

Callin said she nearly burst into tears.

"It was like she already knew exactly what I wanted," she said, admiring the results in a mirror. 

"It's really strange," added Callin. "I'm standing here naked in a room full of people but I don't feel naked with the body paint. I feel completely dressed."

Cancer survivor Maria Singer of Ruskin, sported neon hues all over her body, disguising her mastectomy scars.

"It just feels so freeing," she said. "I'm naked and I don't feel one bit uncomfortable."

Ovarian cancer survivor Darcy Rizzo of New Port Richey asked St. Petersburg artist Dessislava Petrov for a body-painting design in shades of teal, the signature color for ovarian cancer,

"It's also my favorite color," said Rizzo.

Diagnosed with cancer five years ago, Rizzo has attended the Faces of Courage camp twice and says, "The camp healed my soul."

"If this helps more women to be able to attend camp, it's well worth it," she said.

All 18 models were photographed in full body paint for the book, which will debut May 10 at Faces of Courage's annual Boobalishess Fashion Show. All proceeds will help send cancer survivors to camp.

Sherry is now looking for a publisher and sponsors for the book. Those interested in helping can reach her at 813-988-2267 or email psherry@facesofcourage.org

Heike House October 01, 2012 at 11:28 PM
What an awe-inspiring concept! Blessings to all the Cancer survivors and to the artists who helped them to feel even more beautiful than they are! I LOVE your angel wings, Sandy!

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