“A Calendar to Live By” 2013 debuts with new artistic direction
Written by Tilden Bowditch
Last year, Stephanie Castleman was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. The next thing she knew, she was sitting with a group of women, who called themselves Beyond Boobs!, sharing fears, questions, laughter and hope.
“Five days after my diagnosis, I was at a support gathering and it was probably one of the best things I’ve done,” says Castleman, a mother of three from Williamsburg.
Beyond Boobs! is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting young women diagnosed with breast cancer and providing breast health education for all. The organization began in 2006, when co-founders Mary Beth Gibson and Rene Bowditch met with other breast cancer survivors for coffee and to talk about their own experiences through diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
Now, almost seven years later, Beyond Boobs! has grown to include support systems throughout the Hampton Roads, Williamsburg and Richmond areas and one in Moyock, N.C.
Castleman, 46, was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer last July and a friend suggested she check out Beyond Boobs! She began attending the monthly meetings in Bowditch’s living room and continued through her chemotherapy and radiation treatments and beyond.
The group’s positive outlook, humor and honesty lifted her spirits during an emotionally and physically difficult season of life, Castleman says. “Mary Beth
talked about chemotherapy as something positive that cleanses your body instead of a kind of poison,” she remembers. “I began envisioning the chemo-like little army men attacking the cancer cells.”
This Sept. 15, Beyond Boobs! will celebrate its sixth anniversary with the release of the 2013 A Calendar to Live By at their Pink Carpet Gala. The breast health manual disguised as a wall calendar is a staple fundraiser and portrait of the group’s heart and soul—the women. Each year, at least 11 women are chosen to be the featured calendar girls. The women’s stories are included along with breast and overall health and early detection information.
Photographer Brian Freer created images inspired by recognizable works of art for this year’s calendar theme, “Each of Us is a Masterpiece.” “It’s all about showing the strength of these women,” he explains. Working with the women opened Freer’s eyes to the range of emotions women go through when they have breast cancer. “There’s sadness, hope, despair, and also joy in the whole process,” he says.
One thing that distinguishes Beyond Boobs! from other organizations is their purpose, says Freer, who also serves as a board member. “They’re not there to find a cure. There are other organizations that do that,” he says. “Beyond Boobs! is really there so women don’t have to go through this by themselves.”
Castleman, who attended the gala last year, told her husband she wanted to be in the next calendar and he
encouraged her to apply. She’ll be standing with a white sash across her ball gown as a slideshow of this year’s calendar images plays at the gala. “It’s a dream come true,” she says.