With no family history and a low-risk profile, Rachelle Panitz was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32. Two years post-diagnosis, the 34-year-old is cancer-free but the disease still consumes much of her daily life.
Panitz is the founder of the So Brave. A fundraising initiative and charitable organisation that raises funds towards breast cancer research. So Brave is a passion project for the former high-flying business woman.
Given her own surprise diagnosis with the disease, Panitz says she really wanted to encourage young women to trust their instincts when it came to breast cancer diagnosis.
“I really wanted to raise awareness that breast cancer doesn’t discriminate, and young women need to have confidence in their bodies, and in doing their breast checks to get an early diagnosis,” she tells Kochie’s Business Builders.
[image] Rebecca in front of Brighton Beach Boxes – Tamara Bush Photography
To generate more awareness around diagnosis, Panitz created the So Brave calendar project.
The first iteration of the calendar was released in 2016 and raised over $70k in funds. Panitz hopes to better that amount with this year’s calendar which launches tonight in Melbourne. The calendar features 12 portraits of young cancer survivors. Donning colourful body paint, the women bare all for the camera.
Panitz who was Team Leader in the Prime Minister’s G20 Taskforce when she received her diagnosis says she was motivated to produce the calendar to not only raise funds for research but to give the 12 young women that participate an empowering experience. Posting for participants on Facebook Panitz says she was soon inundated with women willing to strip down for the calendar.
Producing the first iteration of the calendar was a steep learning curve for Panitz, whop tells KBB there were lots of “unknowns” in the beginning.
“Particularly about the requirements to do what is technically a commercial photo shoot in public spaces. The beauty of starting the project as a passion project was that all the unknowns didn’t seem daunting because we didn’t know about them all at the beginning,” she says.
[image] Neda in the Flinder St Station old Ballroom – Sarah Matray
“Looking back, we had to overcome a lot to get to the finished product and made a lot of decisions along the way from location, logistics, photographers, legal agreements, branding, website, sales, online shops, launching, marketing, events and all these logistical challenges brought us our success. The first Calendar was also supported by the National Breast Cancer Foundation under their charity banner, which allowed us to get started before we had the opportunity and knowledge to become our own charity. Knowing these requirements and what it takes has made expansion into regional areas this year that much easier.”
She describes the resulting photoshoots as “intense and emotional” and says she has been fortunate to receive the services of some fabulous photographers and of course the work of body painter extraordinaire Wendy Fantasia.
“They are an amazingly empowering experience for every girl that participates in the project. A complete transformation that overcomes everything the young woman has faced – from loss of hair, loss of femininity, weight gain, changing body image and mental health considerations – to become completely different and absolutely beautiful. The bodypaints themselves take a good 8 or 9 hours and then the photoshoot in the early afternoon until sunset for another two or three hours. They are intense, emotional, amazing days, where each young woman recounts their experience with breast cancer and in some ways, begins to heal some parts of that experience.”
As a survivor, Panitz knows only too well how resilient you must be to get through the darker days. Her best advice to anyone in the throes of treatment is to reach out and ask for support.
“This is not the time to fight alone – you will need all the strength you can muster and even though you are a strong, independent woman and you will get through this, it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to allow people to help you! Reach out and find your people – the shoulder to cry on, the people to hang out with and do something that’s anything but the disease. Have courage.”
The So Brave Calendar launch high tea fundraiser took place at the Hotel Windsor in Melbourne on September 23 2017. You can buy the calendar at sobrave.com.au
[Images courtesy of So Brave]