Giant bra sculpture tours Chicago for breast health

Support Bra
Linda Christensen, executive secretary at Advocate Health Care, offers breast cancer screening information to passersby at Union Station Wednesday, Oct. 3. Christensen was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago and is now a proud survivor.

By Adrienne Hurst

The latest style in support bras is 16 feet tall and the perfect fit for travel. Advocate Health Care commissioned the sculpture sported in downtown Chicago to represent all forms of support for breast cancer patients.

The 1,500-pound, pink-and-green bra standing in Union Station will travel through Chicago for the duration of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. Part of Advocate’s “Stories of the Girls” campaign, volunteer cancer survivors, clinicians and Advocate team members will be present at each location to share self-exam tips and mammogram information.

“We call it our ‘support bra,’” said Kelly Jo Golson, Advocate’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer.

Naturally, an undergarment of colossal proportions demands to have its picture taken. For every photo posted to Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag “#supportyourgirls,” Advocate Health Care says it will donate $1 to the American Cancer Society—up to $3,000.

But not everyone is impressed by the looming lingerie.

“A big pink bra would not do it for me, I’ll tell you that,” said Sandy Lichty, a breast cancer survivor and Evanston resident. Because Lichty’s failure to schedule regular mammograms led to her late detection of the disease, she said she advocates for education initiatives to help women understand the importance of yearly mammograms. For her, a bra sculpture isn’t the way.

Dr. Seema Khan, a breast cancer surgeon and professor of cancer research at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, agrees with Lichty.

“Breast cancer in women under 30 is a very rare problem, and breast self-exam studies have not shown any benefit in terms of better cure rates,” she said in an email. “Although it is important for young women to be aware of and familiar with their bodies … excessive attention to the breasts can lead to other, more common problems being ignored.”

Dr. Khan says breast health education is best delivered in terms of general health guidelines, including healthy eating and regular exercise. But Nora Jaskowiak, MD, a breast cancer surgeon at the University of Chicago Medicine, says anything that gets women thinking about breast health is a positive move.

“Some women really love this stuff … this ‘pinkification,’” she said, regarding the sculpture. “It might not be the way to entice everyone, [but] it works for some people.”

Golson agrees that awareness alone isn’t enough. That’s why the base of Advocate’s bra sculpture is inscribed with a message urging onlookers to utilize the hospital network’s same-day mammogram services.

“It’s one thing to be aware, but it’s another to book a mammogram,” Golson said. “This is getting the message out in a big way about a critical [procedure] that will save lives.”

What can individuals do on a daily basis to protect themselves against a disease that is affects about 1 in 8 U.S. women?

“In general, what is good for the whole body is good for the breasts,” Khan said. She lists a nutritious diet, minimized alcohol intake, physical activity and weight control among factors that are likely to reduce breast cancer risk.

Another deterrent? Breastfeeding. That protects against breast cancer, helps women lose weight gained during pregnancy, and is good for the baby, too, Khan said. Breast milk boosts an infant’s immunity to disease.

The most important step, however, is for women to start scheduling yearly mammograms at age 40. Younger women who have a high risk for breast cancer may use other methods of early detection as recommended by their physicians.

As for the ‘support bra,’ Chicagoans can stay abreast with its journey on Advocate’s Stories of the Girls website through October 31.