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Breast of Canada 2007: Supporting Women's Health

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2008 Calendar News

Plug pulled on fundraiser

August 17, 2007
THANA DHARMARAJAH
MERCURY STAFF

GUELPH

In the place where there was once a Breast of Canada calendar hanging in thousands of women's homes, this January there will be an empty wall.

Six years and countless late nights later, Guelph artist Sue Richards has pulled the plug on the calendar, which won't have a 2008 edition.

Featuring photographs of topless women, the calendar, which initially created controversy, is now recognized as a powerful education tool for breast health.

Richards' deteriorating health is the driving force behind her decision to halt the calendar.

She's been diagnosed with a neurological disorder with symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease, she said.

Since 2002, Richards has had a slight tremor in the left side of her body. The tremor has worsened to the point where she has no fine motor skills in her left hand, she said.

Typing, walking and driving has become extremely difficult for Richards.

"It made doing the calendar completely impossible because each calendar takes a 10-month commitment," Richards said.

The physical work involved with the annual September shipment -- lugging nearly 3,000 calendars to the post office -- was unimaginable for her this year.

Richards halted the project in May, soon after her neighbours forced her to see her doctor.

"I was in denial because it's scary," she said.

By this time, photographer Melanie Gillis had shot the 2008 calendar's cover shot and Richards had begun to receive photograph submissions for the inside pages. However, she hadn't begun production or funneled any dollars into the calendar.

In June, Richards was temporarily out of her home for several weeks.

Three squirrels had invaded, bringing fleas with them.

She also had her basement gutted to remove black mould.

It was clear the calendar wasn't happening.

Several people volunteered to put the calendar together for her, but Richards said it would no longer be "a piece of my art."

Gareth Lind, the calendar's designer, said it's a personal project for Richards -- one that she's pulled off tastefully.

Lind, who has become a friend, said the breast calendar has focused on prevention, unlike many other organizations that focused on curing breast cancer.

"It's unfortunate that Sue had to take time out but it's important for her to take it," he said.

Gillis said the calendar created an awareness of breast health and made more women comfortable with their breasts.

"There are a lot of women out there who get dressed in the dark and get undressed in the dark," she said. "It's not a matter of vanity, but a matter of health to be able to look in the mirror, touch your body and see how it's doing."

"It'll definitely leave a hole because there's nothing similar," said Vanessa Turke, a member of the Canadian Breast Cancer Network's board of directors. "She just came up with something amazing."

The Canadian Breast Cancer Network received a share of the proceeds from Richards' sales -- more than 2,700 copies of the 2007 calendar sold, with orders still coming.

Last year, the Canadian Breast Cancer Network received about $2,000.

Richards has advised people of her illness on the Breast of Canada Calendar website at breastofcanada.ca.

So far, she's gotten responses filled with sadness, alarm, compassion and prayer.

She's even received financial assistance from friends and community members to keep her afloat.

Richards is uncertain what the future holds for herself and for the Breast of Canada calendar.

At this point, she said she's not ready to decide whether there'll be a calendar in 2009 or 2010.

"Should life reshuffle the deck and deal a more pleasing hand, there may be a rebirth," Richards wrote on her Calendar Girl blog. "Until such luck is experienced, Calendar Girl wishes you and yours breast health."

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Contact Sue Richards at [email protected]

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