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Capes of strength

Art exhibit celebrates the strength of cancer patients


A new exhibition at the Ventana Gallery at Roche Tissue Diagnostics is turning medical equipment into empowerment for local cancer patients. The "Superheroes, Capes of Strength and Beauty" art installation features 75 "mammocapes" redesigned by artists and auctions them off to raise funds for uninsured and underinsured breast cancer patients.

Mammocapes are traditionally worn by patients receiving a mammogram, which is a low-dose X-ray that allows specialists to look for cancers in breast tissue. But for the exhibition at Roche Tissue Diagnostics, the mammocapes will be transformed by paint, embroidery and sequins to represent the strength of survivors and those fighting breast cancer.

"We're trying to have exhibits that tie more to our mission at Roche Tissue Diagnostics, which is to improve the lives of all patients afflicted with cancer," said Darlene Buhrow, who manages Philanthropy and Community Relations for Roche.

During the exhibition, which is co-hosted by the Southern Arizona Arts & Cultural Alliance, the mammocapes will be silently auctioned off. All displayed capes will begin with a bid of $100, and 100 percent of the funds raised will go to the El Rio Health Center Foundation's breast cancer mammography fund for uninsured and underinsured breast cancer patients.

"We're really excited to partner with the El Rio Health Center, because they're a very large health center in our local community that provides preventative as well as diagnostic care to patients regardless of their ability to pay," Buhrow said. "And it's not coincidental that we're having this reception during Breast Cancer Awareness month. We really want to bring some visibility into ensuring that people understand that they should get tested regularly, because early diagnosis has a better prognosis."

Since June, SAACA and Roche have offered the mammocapes to be designed. They accepted work from professional and amateur artists, community organizations and students on the mammocapes. According to Buhrow, it was no challenge finding local artists interested in participating, as all 75 mammocapes were quickly picked up to be designed.

There was no limit on the materials or techniques used for the art, with the only creative suggestion being that the art should "take this practical garment and elevate it to represent the strength and stories of survivors and those fighting breast cancer." The main themes are superheroes, empowerment and survivorship. Many of the mammocapes stick to these themes, but for others, artistic freedom ran wild. Some of the submissions include sunsets, ribbons, quilting, desert flora and one even includes a portrait of Frida Khalo.

One of the mammocape artists drew from personal experience when designing her art piece. While Rose Fabian never had breast cancer, she did have endometrial cancer which had the potential to spread throughout her body. Fabian's cousin works for Roche, and when she told her about the mammocapes exhibition, Fabian became very interested.

Fabian's mammocape is a two-part work consisting of embroidery, writing and rhinestones. One side reads "Warrior Princess" which her own friends called her while she underwent cancer treatments.

"I was a fighter, but I was still feminine," Fabian said. "It's to remember you're still living life to the fullest like a princess, but you're also a warrior."

In a similar style, the other side depicts a steel rose, which represents being equal parts strong but delicate. While the "Warrior Princess" side includes a decorative crown and silver filigree style, the "Steel Rose" side includes bejeweled flowers and additional floral designs. The entire art piece rests on top of the signature breast cancer pink.

"I had a very personal experience with both of these words," Fabian said. "I can truly relate to the women who are suffering through it, and I hope it can help brighten their day, because those words also helped me during my cancer treatments."

Breast Cancer Research at Roche

One of the goals for the "Superheroes, Capes of Strength and Beauty" exhibit is to bridge the gap between art and science, and discussing the art at Roche wouldn't be complete without mentioning their scientific advancements.

"Here in Oro Valley, Roche Tissue Diagnostics is the number one leading providers of tissue-based cancer diagnostic tests in the world," said Dr. Eric Walk, chief medical and scientific officer at Roche Tissue Diagnostics. "And we're very proud to also be the leader in terms of providing oncologists with the breast cancer diagnostics tests they need to make accurate and safe diagnoses for breast cancer patients."

Roche has also been involved with pharmaceutical partners to develop a special class of "companion diagnostics" that are predictive of which drugs breast cancer patients will need in their road to recovery.

According to Walk, Roche's latest progress in personalized healthcare for breast cancer patients and cancer immunotherapy was the FDA's approval of a PD-L1 test, which is critical in identifying treatments for patients with aggressive "triple negative" breast cancer.

"That's very exciting, because this aggressive form of breast cancer, triple negative breast cancer, has existed for decades but there haven't been many treatment innovations. So Roche overall is very proud to bring this immunotherapy innovation to the field, and Roche Tissue Diagnostics is very proud to bring the PD-L1 test to market to help physicians identify which patients might respond," Walk said. "In terms of research and development, we are always interested to pursue medical needs in breast cancer and to improve the care of breast cancer patients."

The "Superheroes, Capes of Strength and Beauty" exhibition opening reception takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17. The exhibition runs from Friday, Oct. 4, to Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, at the Ventana Gallery at Roche Tissue Diagnostics, 1910 E. Innovation Park Drive. Free. For more information, visit


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