One in eight

| 24 Aug 2015 | 04:36

A love lost to breast cancer inspires a paean to hope

By Becca Tucker

Eleven years ago, when Tom Mattingly’s wife, Lori, was pregnant with their third child, she discovered a lump. She died of complications related to breast cancer at age 38, when their son was seven months old. The 2016 Seasons of Hope calendar is her legacy.

The calendar features a dozen Hudson Valley women who have battled breast cancer. Photographer Kathie Austin, 47, and Tom Mattingly, 49, who writes under the pen name Matthew S. Field, met with Dirt at a café to discuss their joint project.

Finding models, they said, was the easy part. “It’s one in eight,” said Austin, of the number of women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer. That stat is worth sitting with for a moment: 12 percent of the female population. On top of that, Austin, who lives in Vernon, and Mattingly, who’s in Warwick, have seven children between the two of them, and a correspondingly large field of acquaintances. “We actually had a lot more than 12” models to choose from, Austin said. (Miss August happens to be Dirt’s food writer, Lori Marrie.)

Austin sat down for a consult with each model, and from there it was usually obvious where the photo shoot was going down. Meghan Haarmann, above, whose tattoo of a koi became symbolic of her own upstream swim, poses lying in the shallows at the bottom of a waterfall with her three-legged dog. Carol Chattalier, who wrote, It Is What It Is: Beating Breast Cancer Using Chemo, Radiation, and Email, is holding a person-sized red fork. It is the oversized version of the fork that Chattalier keeps in her car cup holder to remind herself: she’s keeping her fork because the best is yet to come.

Mattingly, who has published novels and kids’ books, penned the stories that accompany the photos.

The models represent a wide range of ages – from Kelly Della Rosa, a D-III basketball player who was diagnosed at 24, underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery and is now an avid cyclist; to grandmother Carolyn Morris, who went through a double mastectomy, infections and allergy to pain medication, and was photographed laughing at the head of a family-and-food-filled table. Both discovered lumps while doing self-exams in the shower.

Catch breast cancer early and “you have a great chance of surviving,” said Austin. The time to do a self-exam is on the third or fifth day after the start of a menstrual cycle, we learn on one page; Austin now keeps a pink rubber ducky in her shower a memory cue.

For women undergoing treatment, and their families, the calendar is meant to convey hope. Here are these happy faces, smooching a dog or goofing around on a library shelf, having gone through mastectomies, complications and recurrences, and come out the other side with a glitter in the eye.

The two years of the project have clearly been fraught for its creators. At one point, Mattingly and Austin were engaged; now, Austin describes their relationship as “creative partners… creative partners that love one another.” There is tension there, and yet there is still a spark: Mattingly lugged to the café two cabbages from his garden for Austin, along with a potted grapefruit tree seedling that he’d grown from seed.

For Mattingly, the project can hit too close to home. “In this calendar there’s my feelings about cancer and my wife, and about Kathie, and all of those feelings are mixed together, and not easy to reconcile, I guess. There’s joy and there’s also resentment,” he said. “It’s definitely a relief to have these things done. I think when these are in people’s hands and they’re appreciating them during 2016, and every once in a while someone says ‘Hey I got your calendar,’ it’ll be…” his voice fails him. “Nice.”