Although Julie started out casting pregnant women, she has now added a new dimension to her casting repertoire. Casting can be a very effective tool in healing, celebrating and honouring our bodies regardless of our age or the stage we are in our lives. For example, women who are entering menopause may wish to have a cast of their torso to celebrate their strong and healthy bodies and to create a tangible piece of original art in celebration of the ‘work of art’ that is their body. Young women may create a cast of their youthful bodies to have a lasting memory of themselves prior to childbearing or the natural progression of aging.
Women dealing with breast cancer may wish to be casted before and/or after a mastectomy to not only preserve the memory of their body that once was but to honour their new and changed body (see testimonial below).
Body image issues arise for many women at various points in their lives. Creating a cast can give a woman a very different perspective of how she views her body. In most cases, she is pleasantly surprised at the beauty of her form. Julie recalls a casting session where she casted a young woman who was in the process of overcoming an eating disorder. Throughout the session, the woman was very critical of her body but when the cast was removed and she viewed it as a separate part of her body, she could not believe how beautiful it was. Julie told her over and over, “This is you! This is what your body looks like! This is how everyone sees you.” It was an extraordinary moment for this woman.
In May 2008, I was a happily married woman of 38, with a son & daughter, aged 5 and 3 respectively. My daughter was still determinedly and happily breastfeeding, much to my surprise, and it provided a bond between us that gave us both intense pleasure. “Mummy-milk is the favourite part of my day”, she said to me around that time. Mine too, come to that. And then my husband found a lump in my left breast.
In early July we received the news that the lump was cancerous – surgery was soon discussed, and a lumpectomy planned. But there was still a risk of a full mastectomy – the MRI results weren’t yet back, and sometimes they find things during surgery that make a more radical procedure necessary.
Amongst the myriad of overwhelming emotions cluttering my brain, I began to regret that we hadn’t done a belly cast with Julie when I was pregnant with our first child, for whose birth she was our doula – it would have provided a cast of my breasts to remember them by – they had become a rather central part of family life over the years, and despite being small & saggy, I was quite attached to them… The next day I received an email from Julie, completely unprompted, tentatively asking if I would be interested in her doing a cast of my torso? – I screamed, fell off my chair, and burst into tears!! “YES PLEASE!!” went back the immediate reply!!
So a week before surgery, in early August, I drove out to Cobden, and had a lovely time getting very messy and Julie produced a beautiful cast.
A few days later the MRI results came back – more suspicious lumps showing up, so, at this late stage, a mastectomy was recommended. Not surprisingly, I was extremely distressed, but also comforted by knowing I had a “concrete” (well, plaster!) memory of my natural shape. Julie promised to sand and paint the cast while I was in surgery and it was again comforting to think of the “ying & yang” of that morning – the surgeon and Julie working together, in such different ways, to help both my physical and emotional healing.
The cast lives on our buffet at the moment, partially wrapped in a beautiful silk scarf. I had intended to decorate it, inside and out, with breast-feeding pictures, pictures of myself and my husband, seashells from the beach by my childhood home, and family handprints, but my grief is still too raw, both from the surgery, and from having to wean my daughter before either of us were remotely ready (finally completed on the other side when I started chemotherapy 6 weeks later). I love the cast’s smooth simplicity on the front, and the untouched mould of my missing nipple on the back, and for now, it will remain where it is, as it is. I’ll know when it’s time to decorate it further, and we’ll do the decorations together, as a family, when we’re ready.