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Porter gets bra quilt

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August 20, 2007

By MEGAN JAMES

MIDDLEBURY — Before hanging a new breast cancer awareness quilt in Porter Hospital’s mammography suite last week, mammographer Joan Guertin felt around in one of the quilt’s 12 brightly colored bras for a mock breast cancer.

“She put in a mass,” Guertin said, referring to Dorothy Anguish, the Vergennes resident who sewed and donated the quilt late last year as a light-hearted reminder that women should check their breasts regularly for cancer.

Guertin moved her fingers around the quilted breast until she located the dried pea tucked into the batting. “This really is what a (cancer) mass feels like,” she said. “It’s what you might feel if you were doing a self breast exam.”

But Anguish couldn’t feel it in her own breast last year. Just as she was about to finish the quilt, a mass, which is the most common indicator of breast cancer, showed up in her mammogram. Porter did a second mammogram and determined a biopsy was needed.

“I had to get (the quilt) out of my house because … not finishing it was bad news,” Anguish said.

Anguish has a habit of starting projects and not finishing them, she said. She’d been inching along on the bra quilt for about six years already. So she took the results of her mammogram as a sign she should wrap this one up. 

The project had nothing to do with cancer when it began. Anguish was part of an online quilters’ forum and remembers one woman mentioning she was learning to sew her own underwear from scratch, a practice she began because she’d been having trouble finding bras that fit well.

Someone joked it would be a lot easier if bras were flat, which sparked the idea to use two-dimensional bras as part of quilt panels. Pretty soon, they had each created nine bra panels, which they swapped so each woman had enough variety to make a quilt.

After the abnormal mammogram, Anguish did finish the quilt. It now has 12 panels, each containing a colorful bra stuffed to a different capacity, and real necklaces hanging down into quilted cleavage. She titled the piece “It’s What’s on the Inside That Counts.”

Before going in for her biopsy, she dropped off the finished quilt at the radiology department’s front desk.

“Do with it what you would like,” she wrote in a note to Guertin.

The results of Anguish’s biopsy were a relief; the mass was benign. But she believes she’ll be returning more often for checkups to the suite where her quilt now hangs across from the mammography machine.

“It can be a pretty serious place in there,” she said. “If it can just lighten the mood a little bit …”

Radiologist Steve Koller helped make sure the quilt was displayed in the mammography room. 

“It’s a serious issue but it needs to be confronted,” he said. “And I think the quilt is a wonderfully whimsical way of coming to terms with (the fact) that breast cancer’s real, it affects a lot of women, you need to be proactive about screening, proactive about examining your own breasts … and not embarrassed about it.

“Taking care of your yearly screen and physical exam, as every woman over 40 ought to, shouldn’t be something that’s hidden under the covers,” Koller added. “You can make a quilt out of it and hang it on the wall and be proud of it.”

Anguish recalled the mammographers feeling around in the quilted breast, which at the center of the quilt wears a pink bra and a breast cancer awareness necklace, for the dried pea mass.

“That one bra is going to wear out pretty quickly,” she said, laughing.

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