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Guelph calendar promotes breast self examinations

The Record

Kitchener, B2
BY ROSE SIMONE - Record staff
Sunday, September 29, 200

It was, at first glance, a little shocking for Ursula Van Spyk of Guelph to see her 56-Year-old naked breasts in a black-and-white photograph, about to be printed in a calendar.

For generations of women - especially those of Van Spyk's age - breasts were something to hide, unless you were one of those young, professional models displaying perky plastic enhanced breasts for men's magazines.

To suddenly see her own, natural, aging but healthy breasts up close in a photograph - dimples, flabbiness and all took her aback at first.

ut the more she looked, the more beautiful the curvatures and contours seemed; the more she liked her breasts.

That's the point behind the Breast of Canada calendar, launched this week in Guelph.

The idea is that women of all ages shapes, sizes and colours should like and become familiar and interested enough in their breasts to do breast self examinations and stay healthy.

The educational calendar was the brainchild of 43-year-old Sue Richards, founder of a Guelph community arts program called Art Jam. She is also one of the models in the photographs.

The photographs depict the breasts of almost two dozen ordinary area women, aged 18 to 58, taken by Guelph photographer Melanie Gillis. The black-and-white stills are toned to the softness of flesh and Gillis uses the play of light and shadow to enhance the beauty of the contours.

Below each breast portrait for each Month of 2002, there is important information about breast cancer and factors such as low-fat diet and exercise that help keep breasts healthy.

The front two pages of the calendar show women how to do a breast self-exam properly, using pictures of real breasts instead of the usual line drawings of medical textbooks.

Richards said 20,000 calendars have been printed and 40 per cent of net profits will go to the Burlington-based Breast Cancer Support Services.

The calendar was going to press in June when the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care came out with a report saying breast self-examination doesn't save lives and could cause harm. The report said if the self-exam is not done properly, it can give women a false sense of security.

Richards was taken aback by the report, "but instinctively, I knew it couldn't be right."

Women's health and breast cancer organizations immediately criticized the report, pointing out that women should be taught to do the self-exams properly rather than be discouraged from doing it at all.

If anything, the controversy made women more aware of the need to learn how to do a breast self-examination properly, Richards said.

It seemed appropriate that the project was born in Guelph where, 10 years ago, Gwen Jacob's topless protest drew attention to society's discomfort with normal, natural breasts as opposed to the ones displayed in advertisements and bars. The protest by Jacob and her final victory in the courts is marked in the calendar.

Meanwhile, Van Spyk said she is happy that she participated.

"Years ago, if someone had told me I'd be doing this, I would have thought it was crazy," Van Spyk said.

The project reinforces that even as women age, "we are still beautiful," she said.

The Breast of Canada calendar is priced at $24.95 plus tax and shipping and can be ordered from the Web site: www.breastofcanada.com or purchased through area bookstores and retailers.

The release of the calendar also coincides with the 10th annual CIBC Run for the Cure, which raises money for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. The run gets under way at 10 a.m. tomorrow at Waterloo’s RIM Park.