Local women challenged to donate 1,000 bras

Gals, you know you’ve got ‘em. They’re stuffed inside an underwear drawer or folded up and forgotten on a closet shelf.

Mexican women who are breast cancer survivors await their turn for a bra and prosthetic fitting at a Cancer de Mama clinic.

Gals, you know you’ve got ‘em. They’re stuffed inside an underwear drawer, folded up and forgotten on a closet shelf, or worse, dumped on a pile on the floor.

They’re your Ill-fitting, improperly sized, and unwanted (and therefore gently-used) bras.

Businesswoman Yvonne Hogenes is hoping you’ll pick up that pile and donate your unwanted undergarments to a worthwhile cause.

Each year, more than 500 Mexican women who are all breast cancer survivors are fitted with bras, prosthetics, wigs and makeup during the Cancer de Mama Clinic weekend.

The clinic takes place the first weekend of February in Le Penita, a town north of Puerto Vallarta.

Women are picked up by busses and brought to the clinic from across the state of Nayarit, some boarding as early as 3 a.m. to ride down bumpy roads to the clinic, some six hours away in an RV campsite that’s home to a community of retirees and Snowbirds.

Last year, 575 women were helped over three days. This year, organizers are branching out with an additional Cancer de Mama clinic in Guadalajara, meaning some women won’t have to travel so far.

“So we need more bras and help!” says Hogenes of Malary’s Fashion Network, a clothing boutique in Cloverdale, and, fittingly, founder of the TAB bra line.

She;s challenging all women from Cloverdale and beyond to bring in their items. She’s hoping to collect 1,000 bras, wigs and more.

This unique campaign all began in 1996, when founder Jackie Jackson of Enderby, B.C., a breast cancer survivor, realized there was almost nothing in the way of help for these impoverished Mexican women.

She gathered up donations and supplies, giving away 28 prosthetics to the women of the state of Nayarit.

The Cancer de Mama clinic was born. Since then, a growing army of volunteers have organized the clinic in La Penita each year over a three-day weekend in early February. Throughout the year, women in Canada and the U.S. raise funds and collect the necessary donations.

Part workshop, part clinic, the aim is to provide women with a free range of services, from counselling and physical therapy to wigs, scarves, hats, and properly-fitted bras and prostheses.

There are now close to 120 volunteers taking part, including nurses, doctors, sewers and fitters, all working to help Mexican women survive breast cancer with comfort and dignity.

Yvonne Hogenes“They can’t afford a bra, they can’t afford a prosthetic – a lot of them have waited all year to come down. It’s a big event for them,” she said. “They come with nothing, or bras they’ve tried to sew, or handmade prosthetics made with birdseed in it.”

[Yvonne Hogenes, left]

It’s difficult to imagine just how marginalized impoverished women with breast cancer are, says Hogenes. There are no support groups, before and after cancer care, and no funds to buy a properly-fitted bra much less a prosthesis.

Doctors assist with any attendant medical issues the women have. “They’re dealing with infections and all sorts of trauma issues,” she says.

“It’s heart wrenching. But there are glimmers of smiles. They feel like maybe there’s some hope and it’s the first time maybe they’ve felt that in their whole life,” says Hogenes.

During the clinic, they are fitted with four bras, so they’re sent home with a wardrobe of bras, plus two prosthetics, and a wig.

“We always give them a pink bra,” notes Hogenes. “Mexican women are colourful – they love pink.” They also have a chance to get their hair styled and make-up done.

Hours later, the transformation is complete.

“The change – that’s what’s touched me. It’s incredible.”

Each year, volunteers bring new skills to the table, such as the therapist from Omaha who specializes in lymphatic drainage and wants to offer training to women at the clinic.

“Education is really the key.”

This year, Hogenes says a class on healthy eating is planned. She wonders about the role diet plays in the disease; it’s not uncommon to see mothers in their 20s at the Cancer de Mama clinic.

Accessing medical care presents a very real obstacle for these Mexican women, too.

“It costs money to get on the bus to see a doctor,” she says. “A lot of them, once they’ve had surgery, they’re on their own.”

Each year, the group takes on a few cases of extremely needy women, ensuring they are cared for by a physician for a full year.

In issuing the bra challenge, Hogenes, and her cohorts in other Canadian and U.S. communities, hopes to spread word about a growing cause. “Our goal is to see it in many cities across Mexico as a model. I think it can be a model for other countries, as well.”

Donated bras are cleaned and have the underwires taken out. Volunteer sewers create prosthetic pockets in the cups, too, so the bras are fresh and ready for the clinic.

Women who bring in their gently used bras, wigs, prosthetics and hats during the month of October will receive $10 off their TAB custom fitted bra purchase.

Donations can be dropped off at Malary’s Fashion Network at 5755 176 Street in Cloverdale, or call 604-574-6402.

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