Bedazzled bras battle breast cancer

Jessica Jasperson, MSUM Mass Communications and English Major

Women, men and children line up for the bling buffet at
the second annual BRAzaar event on Thursday, Oct. 3
in Downtown Fargo.

Fargo, N.D. — The second annual BRAzaar event took place at the Civic Center in Downtown Fargo on Oct. 3, where the community came together for a night of bra bedazzling to support women battling breast cancer.

The BRAzaar is organized by Karen Stoker, the owner of the Hotel Donaldson, along with numerous volunteers. Donations and old bras were accepted and graciously received as people came to show their support.

The old bras are bedazzled with feathers, glitters and gems of all kinds to create the garlands of bras hung up the week of Oct. 21 across Broadway in Downtown Fargo. Turning bras into artwork is the theme for Bras on Broadway, the eighth annual event on October 24 at the HoDo.

Karen Stoker’s history of Bras on Broadway

It began over eight years ago during a conversation over coffee; in which Stoker’s friend informed her friend about an event in Montana where regional artists make beautiful bras and auction them off for a fundraiser.

After dancing to the music of Heart & Soul, Karen Stoker poses for a photo in the Civic Center Thursday, Oct. 3 at the BRAzaar event.

“She said, ‘You know, you’ve got such a great relationship with a lot of the artists because of what we have in the Hotel Donaldson. What do you think about this?’ Stoker said. “I said, ‘Gosh, I think that sounds like a great idea, Lauren. I think we should give it a try.’ ”

The Bras on Broadway event auctions off between 40 to 45 wearable and non-wearable pieces of bra artwork, and the wearable bras are modeled by volunteers. Hanging artwork is also auctioned off at a silent auction. The event sells out every year and Stoker is always searching for more ways the community can be involved.

“So, a couple of years after a sold out event, with a bunch of free-thinking and creative people, we came up with the idea of collecting old bras and hanging them up and having people make a contribution,” she said.

Seven sisters model their bedazzled bras to support two of the sisters who are breast cancer survivors.

All of the money stays in North Dakota and Northwestern Minnesota to fund gas cards.

“The average person seeking treatment for cancer travels 120 miles round trip,” Stoker said. “So it doesn’t take long for that to add up, and you know we live in a community that really helps our neighbors.”

The Bras on Broadway fundraising amount has grown rapidly throughout the years. Graphic courtesy of Bras on Broadway.

As the event grew in the community, so did the garlands of bras. What started with a small strip turned into the entire HoDo building being wrapped in bras in 2012. This year, the garlands are strung across Broadway for the first time.

Garlands of bras inspire women to keep fighting

Bras on Broadway directly impacted Lisa Verworn, a breast cancer survivor.

“When I was going through treatment I didn’t want to do treatment any more. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life,” Verworn said. “I was extremely sick and I had told my mom that I was not going to do another treatment. I probably had only done two, and I was crying in the morning.”

Lisa Verworn stands behind her booth for FM Breast Friends, a support group that meets in Moorhead, Minn. for women who are battling breast cancer. Lisa is a survivor, and she has been cancer-free for six years.

However, Verworn’s mom doesn’t give up easily. She knew her daughter had to see something to give her inspiration and support.

“I was crying. I was telling her I was not going, I’m not going to treatment,” Verworn said. “It was in October and my mom said, ‘Why don’t you just get in the car? We’ll take a little drive, maybe you’ll feel better.’ So we got in the car and she went a different way to Roger Maris that day, onto Main Avenue and she turned on Broadway.”

As Verworn continued to tell her story, she began tearing up as she remembered the consequences of a simple drive that changed her life.

“I saw all the bras hanging from the building and it was like something in me, I don’t know what it was, but it made me realize that there were a lot of people in the community that were supporting what was going on. Not just me, but other women out there and paying it forward. And I did go to my treatment that day and finished all of them. I think I did 14 after that and then I had radiation.”

Donated bras hang down from the HoDo to stream support for women fighting breast cancer. Photo courtesy of brasonbroadway.com.

Verworn pays it forward

Since her first experience seeing the garlands of bras hung up on Broadway, she continues to be involved with Bras on Broadway. Her first year participating, she modeled a bra and raised the highest amount for a bra in the history of the event, a sum of $800.

“I told Karen that the first night I modeled it just inspired me to do it,” Verworn said. “It’s still such an emotional journey for me as I see other women that are coming after me that are younger than I was, and you just feel so alone. I mean even in the group it’s still so hard to do it. Just need people out there, who are helping you, you shouldn’t have to go through it alone.”

Her booth at the BRAzaar is for FM Breast Friends, a local support group that meets in Moorhead once a month. They also make hope totes for the newly diagnosed in town, which Essentia Health disperses. New members of the support group also receive a hope tote.

“You know, I just think that for me going through it and for as alone as I felt, I never want to see another woman out there go through it alone,” she said. “But it is what we call a sorority that no one wants to be in, but once you’re in it, the friendships set up and formed are life-long.”

Two pieces of advice Verworn gives women fighting breast cancer:

  • “Take it one treatment at a time. Try not to look at the big picture, because it can become overwhelming.”
  • “Do not time travel and think so far ahead of the what-ifs. We are our own statistic. Just because somebody has passed and had the same kind of cancer doesn’t mean you can’t beat it. There is hope out there.”

Appreciation from women overwhelms Karen Stoker

Stoker’s eyes swell with tears as she explains the handwritten notes she gets every year. She expresses how she is choked up for most of October.

“Of course they are thankful for the help, but they all mention the fact that what even means more to them than that is they know that the people in the community are thinking about them,” Stoker said. “So the energy behind it is priceless.”

There are many stories and experiences like Lisa Verworn’s that Stoker is sure they don’t hear about.

Bras on Broadway stuns locals and visitors

With the past eight years of Bras on Broadway, the garlands of bras have become iconic symbols representing Fargo-Moorhead’s support for women battling breast cancer.

“We really want to be a spectacle,” Stoker said. “We want people to stop in and count their blessings. To think about that one in eight women fight breast cancer. That with early detection and all the advancements being made we really can make a difference. People in North Dakota and Northwestern Minnesota need the help.”

A panoramic view of the BRAzaar event on Thursday, Oct. 3 at the Civic Center in Downtown Fargo. Bra decorating and dancing create an atmosphere of community support for women fighting breast cancer.

Just as important as the money raised is that people are aware and conscience of their health said Stoker.

Early detection, knowing about the advancements being made, talking about breast cancer, sharing stories about it and being self aware of our health are also important.

The Bras on Broadway event on October 24 is sold out, but you can visit their website, Bras on Broadway to donate.

 (Copy Edited by Megan Hsiang, MSUM Mass Communications)

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