2007 Hamptons.com Article

Building a Nest of Support: The South Fork Breast Health Coalition
By R. B. Stuart

For three years artists, celebrities, and sports figures have been lending their artistic flair to the Celebrity Bird House Auction to benefit the South Fork Breast Health Coalition. Each year real wooden birdhouses are given to a roster of participating artists and celebrities to adorn. Then the one-of-a-kind birdhouses are put up for auction. “People collect them,” said Birdhouse Auction founder and East Hampton artist Karyn Mannix. “Three years ago we were planning a fundraiser and were contemplating a theme. When I walked into the space we were going to use in Southampton Hospital Parrish Hall, I saw the walls covered in birdhouse wallpaper and knew instantly that would be the theme.”This year 88 birdhouses were custom designed by the likes of singer Aretha Franklin, actress Brook Shields, CBS News anchor Maurice DuBois, Today Show’s Ann Curry, figure skating champion Peggy Fleming, former New York Yankee Whitey Ford, former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani and his wife Judith, the NY Knicks, designer Betsey Johnson, pro golfer Morgan Pressel, and actor Cliff Robertson. A few of the artists participating are David Salle, Dennis Oppenheim, Eric Ernst, Carolyn Beegan, Paton Miller, Tony Rosenthal, Dan Rizzie, Don Saco, Daniel L. Malisky, and many more.Actress Renee Zellwegger will, for the second year, serve as honorary chair of the event and has already completed her birdhouse titled, “You Pick Up My Pieces,” which was inspired by a friend and a “paraphrased” Hemingway quote (which is etched on the bottom). “The birdhouses are affordable and begin bidding at $40. Every single one is usually sold,” Mannix informed. Last year the artist Richard Prince’s house sold for $2,000 and Zellwegger’s for much more. For those who’ll miss the chance to bid at the October 13th benefit this year they’ll be selling a poster. The artwork is by Dan Rizzie and the original piece is in the collection of actor Kelsey Grammer. You can purchase a poster, signed or unsigned, at BookHampton in Sag Harbor and Southampton, or by contacting the Coalition.

The South Fork Breast Health Coalition is a nonprofit, grassroots organization whose mission is to help educate women about the importance of self-breast exams and annual mammograms as preventative measures. The proceeds raised for the Coalition will support various breast cancer programs, including the Lend a Helping Hand, Neighbors Helping Neighbors and Ellen’s Well. The Coalition is dedicated to helping breast cancer patients cope with the day-to-day pressures of life while undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy. The group helps woman manage family and home commitments during this stressful period by offering unique health and wellness-integrated support programs. The Coalition reaches from Montauk to Manorville to Shelter Island.

In 1994, the Coalition was co-founded by breast cancer survivor Susie Barry Roden who was diagnosed 15 years ago at age 38 with stage I breast cancer, then 10 years ago a stage II reoccurrence. “I was in shock. I thought it was a death sentence. I was single then and thought no one would ever love me. I didn’t know how to tell my parents or siblings. People have heart attacks in my family…we don’t have cancer. You get crushed when you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, but you can’t dwell in the dark side too long. It’s okay to feel self-pity, just don’t stay there,” she warns. “One thing you find out is [that] you’re a lot stronger than you think.”

One of the biggest promises she made herself was to ‘never let anyone take the journey alone.’ “And that’s why I started the Coalition with Martha Rogers (former Southampton Town Council) 15 years ago. There’s nothing worse than someone saying, ‘I never knew the Coalition existed.’ ” The quote Roden lives her life by now is, ‘Live life to the fullest in all its joys and all its sorrows.’

Roden’s life was transformed by the cancer. “I could probably say I wish I never had cancer, but it’s not the worst thing to happen to me (because I caught it early). I thrive on helping people. Not that I love cancer, but I love making people feel good,” she says of her goal to open a community center where services can be offered, under one roof, to breast cancer patients, survivors and families. Roden has a vision board hanging on her wall of the community center she’ll open one day. “We opened a money market account and have $70,000 towards the house I envision in Water Mill. A place where we could do yoga, have lectures, and many programs. A place where my 85-year-old mother could cook, where people could gather to eat, talk, and find support. A place where people could feel safe. A place where kids can go to talk about their mom’s diagnosis with cancer. Where father’s can come and talk to one another about their circumstances. We want a place where they can go to get their spirit renewed. It would be a world of hope in one little spot.” When it comes to Roden’s dream, no donation is too small or too big.

Those on board with her mission are the East End Area Office of The American Cancer Society, SUNY Stony Brook, Southampton and other East End Town Officials. The Coalition works closely with the Southampton Hospital Breast Center. The Coalition, along with other breast cancer groups across LI, is committed to finding the answer to the high incidence of breast cancer in our area. Their goal is to have 100% of the East End female population, age 16+ performing self-breast examinations and 100% of our female population, age 40+ receiving annual mammograms.

“I know we do great work already,” Roden admits. “But if we could have just one place it would make things a lot easier.” What is lacking in the medical community when someone is dealing with the diagnosis of breast cancer is ‘caring for their heart, soul and spirit.’ “There are a lot of survivors out here, women and men, and we’re trying to give back by making sure they don’t feel alone.”

Karyn Mannix is also a breast cancer survivor and notes out of 20 women she knows, 8 – 9 have or had breast cancer. She thinks the misconception about cancer is, “That they’ll never get it. It’s a definite wake-up call. That’s when you find a test of your own mortality.” Mannix was fortunate to find the lump in its very early stage, oddly on a day of a scheduled annual mammogram that she was going to skip due to a change in insurance companies. As a result the lump was successfully removed with a lumpectomy and radiation. “Although it doesn’t diminish the fear that it won’t come back. I don’t know if those thoughts will ever disappear. You expect it to happen to other people, but not you. It’s sort of surreal – you can’t believe it’s happening to you,” Mannix confessed. She was the first to be diagnosed in her family.

As an artist, with a background in fashion, art history, a costume and set designer for plays on and off Broadway, and art teacher to children with special needs. Mannix tends to focus her artwork around body image, gender, social, and political issues. Ironically, two to three years before her breast cancer diagnosis she did a piece on the premise of breast cancer, ‘if I have breast cancer will you still love me?’ “I was doing body image artwork, and the cancer seem to enhance it,” she explained. “In my 20’s I used to be anorexic. It’s the power of control. It’s a forced image. Bobble-headed women with skinny bodies and big heads. How can you not perceive that,” Mannix remarked.

When you combine cancer in a woman who already has a negative body image, the result can be combustive. The sheer devastation of who she was and who she was meant to be has evaporated, replaced by doubt and fear. As the restructuring of who she will become gives birth from deep within, she finds in the ashes of her old self the hope to live, the strength to fight, and the courage to love who she has become. Through the work of the South Fork Breast Health Coalition, efforts are being made daily to help women, current patients, survivors, and their families, deal with the effects of cancer. We wish them the best and offer our support.

  • The 3rd Annual Birdhouse Auction Fundraiser is on Saturday, October 13th 5:30 pm – 8 pm at the Southampton Cultural Center, 25 Pond Lane, Southampton. Tickets are $40. You can preview the Birdhouses next Saturday, October 6th 6 pm – 8 pm at Hampton Road Gallery, 36 Hampton Rd. Southampton. For information or to purchase tickets, please call 631.726.8606 or visit the following websites: http://www.southforkbreast.com and http://www.karynmannix.net
  • During October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, The South Fork Breast Health Coalition is teaming up with Breast Health Center at Southampton Hospital and local merchants to “Paint the Town Pink.” On October 1st there will be a pink tree lighting at the Southampton Chamber. The monies raised will be used for breast health education outreach in our local community. The East End (Quogue to Montauk) has one of the highest rates of breast cancer on Long Island. But, when found early, the survival rate for breast cancer is 95%. By “Painting the Town Pink” we just may save lives by reminding women how important the early detection of breast cancer is.
  • The Coalition is also trying to recruit volunteers. If you’re interested please call 631-726-8606 or visit their website at http://www.southforkbreast.com.
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