Breast cancer survivors, patients pose for vintage-style pin-up calendar

    Bluebell, Pa., resident Diana DeSantis is a singer for a Led Zeppelin cover band and plays dress-up all the time. But this week was different. The 44-year-old swapped her ’70s-era dresses for victory hair rolls and cat eyes for a pin-up style calendar shoot at the Mt. Airy Art Garage.

    The “Love, Twelve” calendar features 12 women—some breast cancer survivors, others still fighting the illness.

    “There’s 12 beautiful women that are sending their love and support to you all year round,” said Tracy Birdsell, a California-based photographer who came up with the idea.

    DeSantis is one of four Philadelphia-area women booked for photo shoots this week at the Mt. Airy Art Garage.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    Love, Twelve

    Five years ago, Birdsell was 29 when she had surgery to remove a breast tumor. She said she felt very alone and typical cancer support resources weren’t a good fit for her as a young woman.

    She wants to help survivors get their “sexy back” and created “Love, Twelve” especially for women ages 18 to 40. She says the pin-up style is perfect for making women feel classy and beautiful.

    “A lot of times when you come out of cancer you do not feel beautiful,” Birdsell said. “You feel like you’ve been invaded by an alien, you have this disconnect with your body.”

    A fantasy

    On Tuesday, DeSantis posed at the arts center with a vintage microphone in hand. She had chosen Rita Hayworth as inspiration for her shoot’s film noir theme.

    “It’s me,” she said. “A fantasy me.”

    DeSantis has battled breast cancer since 2009. She was in remission for a year and half when doctors told her the cancer had returned and spread to her lymph nodes, skull, pelvis, lung and the base of her spine. Once cancer spreads, or metastasizes, it is considered stage four and incurable.

    DeSantis is continuing some treatment and said she lives life to make new memories. She quit her job of 12 years as an insurance broker to sing professionally. Her band, “Get the Led Out,” plays all across the country, including locally at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia and the House of Blues in Atlantic City.

    “Had it not been for the cancer, I don’t know that I’d be doing this now,” DeSantis said.

    “So maybe I’m dealing with something really heavy, but I have to say I don’t know that I’ve ever been happier in my life than I am right now.”

    Expanding the idea

    Right now, the calendar proceeds are all reinvested into the calendar. Birdsell hopes to increase sales and make the calendar a fundraiser to support women affected by cancer.

    “I want to get it out there and known and want to support other organizations that directly help survivors,” she said.

    The 2014 publication is Birdsell’s second calendar. She’s now working on expanding the project to videos and podcasts.

    She connected with DeSantis through Facebook and finds most of her models through friends of friends.

    The Mt. Airy Art Garage — a nonprofit gallery and artists’ studio — rented the space out for a minimal fee.

    Co-founder Arleen Olshan said “Love, Twelve” appealed to Mt. Airy Art Garage because it has the potential to boost self-esteem in cancer survivors.

    The 2014 calendar will be available in October and can be pre-ordered on the organization’s website for $25.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal