The Breast Health Task Force of Southeastern Connecticut will kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month in true Connecticut fashion: organized; supportive; and focused on the mission.
Starting with a reception Wednesday night at the Garde Arts Center, the Task Force has coordinated with several local galleries and agencies to present a series of art openings and other events to raise education and awareness about breast cancer options in Connecticut, which continues to lead the nation in breast cancer detection and recovery.
The Task Force employs a similar model for all of its work: stay on point and work with others who hope to achieve the same thing. Since its launch in 1997, the Task Force has partnered with a host of local agencies and providers, breast cancer survivors and staff from Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.
"What I think is great, at this point in time, is that we have a great connected feeling in Connecticut," says event co-chair Diane Pezzolesi of L+M.
"Things are changing and transitioning, and healthcare facilities are partnering to strengthen their efforts to raise the level of care for patients and are providing the best level of care available," she said.
Those partnerships extend even further, though, and include local legislators; community agencies such as Community Health Services, United Way and Ledge Light Health District; and charitable organizations like the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation, Komen Connecticut, Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation and the American Cancer Society.
"It used to be that we were individual organizations, and we're no longer that way," Pezzolesi explains. In one concerted effort to provide awareness, education and fund research, Pezzolesi says, "We're breaking the silence and joining in support of each other."
But beyond simply informing patients of their treatment options, through events like "In the Pink," the Task Force aims to encourage support and creative expression as part of the treatment and healing process for cancer survivors and their supporters.
It's a holistic approach reflected in Wednesday night's kick-off program. Alongside treatment updates from local physicians in the field - Dr. Vanessa Johnson, an oncologist; Dr. Brenda Koblick, a radiologist; and Dr. Elizabeth Arguelles, a surgeon - the night will offer a survivor photo exhibit by former model and celebrity photographer Kristen Jensen and entertainment by the TseTse Gallery Performers.
Jensen's show, titled "In the Pink: A Celebration of Women's Strength, Beauty, and Healing," features stunning black-and-white images of cancer survivors, listing their names, a few things about the subject - how many children; favorite martini, for example - and how long they've been cancer-free. The exhibit will move to Mystic Arts Center in time for its Oct. 15 Art After Dark event.
The TseTse Gallery Performers out of Providence return after a successful run of their show, "Living Courage," last year. "Living Courage" features actors dressed and painted into mannequins who eventually "come to life" to tell stories of cancer diagnosis and survival.
Meanwhile, staff from the Pink Mermaid Mastectomy Boutique in Groton will be on-hand to answer questions about clothing, medical supplies and financial programs available to men and women without insurance coverage.
Elsewhere in the region, art galleries and shops will be busy hanging concurrent "In the Pink" art shows or hosting events to raise money for the local cancer charity of their choice.
As a 17-year breast cancer survivor herself, Pezzolesi takes great pride in the Task Force's work and draws great encouragement from the most recent breast cancer statistics released by Komen Connecticut.
"The good news is we're Connecticut strong; and we're unified partners, and we're kicking cancer," Pezzolesi says.
In a community profile released in October 2011, Connecticut had the second highest breast cancer incidence rate in the nation; but that high number is a result of the state's high mammography rate, which is among the highest in the nation due to higher mammography utilization.
Pezzolesi explains, "So even though the incidence is higher here, it's because we're getting screened, and they're catching it early. ... We're setting that example (across the nation)."
Pezzolesi notes last year, 80 percent of women screened at L+M were diagnosed early with localized disease, resulting in a low mortality ratio. Connecticut is 35th in breast cancer mortality across the nation.
"That means we're accomplishing our mission and creating a huge awareness, and educating on the importance of early detection to save lives," she says. "We in Connecticut are serving as an example of excellence in health care. Other states can see the results we're getting and follow our lead."
The following galleries have partnered with the Breast Health Task Force of Southeastern Connecticut to present related "In the Pink" exhibits and events to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Proceeds from sales will go to local cancer charities.
Norwich Arts Center Gallery, 60 Broadway, Norwich: Oct. 2-26 with an opening reception on Friday, Oct. 4, from 6 to 8 p.m.; www.norwicharts.org
Wauregan Gallery, 200 Main St., Norwich: Show opens Oct. 4 with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Visit the gallery on Facebook for updates.
The Gallery at Firehouse Square, 239 Bank St., New London: Oct. 4-31 with an opening reception Oct. 10 from 5:30 to 8 p.m.; www.firehousesquare.com
Studio 33, 140 Bank St., New London: Call (860) 442-6355 for details.
Studio M, 29 Cottrell St., Mystic: Call (860) 536-5000 for details.
Mystic Arts Center; 9 Water St., Mystic: Kristen Jensen's "In the Pink" exhibit opens Tuesday, Oct. 15, as part of MAC's Art After Dark series. www.mysticarts.org
Noank Foundry and Artist Studios, 70 Marsh Road, Noank: Call (860) 572-2799 for details.
Seasonal Home, 6 Hurlbutt Road, Gales Ferry: Call (860) 381-5568 for details.
Six Summit Gallery, 6 Summit St., Ivoryton: Opening reception and silent auction on Oct. 4 from 6 to 9 p.m.; exhibit features more than 20 artists; (860) 581-8332; www.sixsummitgallery.com