Quad Cities artists partner with community leaders to fight ovarian cancer

Local News

The 15 female torsos designed by Quad Cities artists for the 2021 girlpARTs project by Rock Island-based NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Initiative.

Ovarian cancer may be a silent killer, but Jodie Kavensky and 15 local artists are making a lot of noise to help raise awareness of the disease and raise money for a 13-year-old foundation founded by Kavensky.

NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Initiative, headquartered in Rock Island, empowers all people born with ovaries (and those who love them) to know the risk factors and symptoms of ovarian cancer. The organization was founded in 2008 by Jodie Shagrin Kavensky as a legacy to her mother, Norma Yecies Shagrin, and her aunt, Leah Yecies Hantman, whose lives were cut short by this deadly disease.

“Sisters share a lot of things…breast and ovarian cancer should never be any of them,” Kavensky said.

The 2021 girlpARTs project is a unique community education and awareness program focusing on the genetic relationship between breast, ovarian and other cancers. The project pairs local business leaders with community artists to create three-dimensional works of art (torso sculptures) that are placed in public locations with a goal of creating better health outcomes.

While similar torso sculptures have been made and sold in previous years, this time Kavensky has added a new scavenger hunt component to the campaign. Through Dec. 15, a virtual (and in-person, where permitted) scavenger hunt is being held to allow Quad Citizens to participate in the event. Each Tuesday and Friday, NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Initiative will be posting visual and verbal clues on their Facebook page.

Each clue identifies a specific sculpture that is displayed around the community. It’s a creative, easily accessible and engaging way to share critical health information, especially in underrepresented and vulnerable populations. The online link with all of the clues is https://bit.ly/3C1yt84.

“We were just looking at ways to engage people more and we’ve had to make it more of a visual one and put everything up online, as well as in the community,” Kavensky said recently. For each correct clue that’s submitted, you will get put into a drawing for prizes, including a $50 gift certificate for Barrel House.

The artist/community leader teams are:

  • Carolyn Krueger/Marie Ziegler
  • Lisa Mahar/Carmen Darland
  • Marla Andich/Brian Hollenback
  • Corrine Smith/Paula Sands
  • Atlanta Fulscher/Decker Ploehn
  • Gaye Shannon-Burnett/Roma Taylor
  • Ellie DeMay/Elizabeth Round
  • Diana Kreider/Michele Dane
  • Kimberly Kruse/Melissa Sharer
  • Molly McGuire/Sherry Ristau
  • Kristin Nguyen/Gwen Tombergs
  • Rowen Schussheim-Anderson/Angie Normoyle
  • Susan Wahlmann/Mike Thoms
  • Amber Williams/Gerry Bustos

Each artist and community leader are matched by NormaLeah and they come upon a concept that they both agree on and then artists and the community leader decide how much involvement they have after that, Kavensky said. “It’s just really a way to get more people involved with NormaLeah.”

Part of their granting process was going to reach more diverse and underserved populations, so they included putting sculptures at Community Health Care and The Project of the Quad Cities, she said. The sale proceeds and grants go towards paying each artist $200 for their sculpture.

NormaLeah has had three local girlpARTs fests (July 2015, May 2017, and November 2019), and the girlpARTs torso project has been implemented in conjunction with the 2017 and 2019 events.

A scavenger hunt for the girlpARTs sculptures is new this year.

“We have tweaked the program to auction the sculptures at a gala following their community run,” Kavensky said, noting the next gala will be held in April 2022. The total funds raised are over $230,000 for the program over the years. In the past decade, NormaLeah has raised $900,000 altogether, Kavensky said.

An artist reception for 2021 girlpARTs was held on Sept. 10 and the sculptures were previewed at Riverssance Festival of Fine Arts Sept. 18 & 19. “It was so great,” Kavensky said of displaying for the first time at Riverssance, where the pieces were not for sale. “I can’t tell you what a great fit it was for the type of project.”

The sculptures are now offered for sale, with proceeds supporting future girlpARTs projects and supplementing funding gaps in community outreach and supportive care services for ovarian cancer survivors. This project is made possible through funds from Illinois Arts Council Agency, Quad City Arts’ Arts Dollars grant, UnityPoint Health, Royal Neighbors of America and the Doris & Victor Day Foundation.

Diagnosing ovarian cancer and artist work

In the Quad Cities, more than 2,500 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer during their lifetime, according to NormaLeah. All women are at risk for ovarian cancer and many, such as breast cancer survivors (12% of women), may be at a higher risk.

Many women are unaware of their increased risk. Assessing personal risks and knowing the symptoms are crucial for earlier diagnoses and improved outcomes. Ovarian cancer has long been considered a “silent killer,” because the symptoms are subtle and advance slowly. It is hard to detect, difficult to treat, and there is no reliable screening test.

The growth of ovarian cancer cells may not produce any noticeable symptoms. Since the ovaries are about the size of an almond and located deep within the pelvic area, they are difficult to feel, according to NormaLeah.

A torso sculpture designed by Kimberly Kruse, “Women of the World Unite,” which is at Rock Island Fitness & Activity Center.

Symptoms often are not noticeable until the tumor has grown and spread beyond the ovaries.  Furthermore, symptoms — such as abdominal bloating/swelling, pain/pressure in the pelvic area and changes in appetite/bowel functions — mimic many less life-threatening gastrointestinal and gynecologic conditions. Most women were never taught the symptoms; they advance slowly, and tend to be ignored until they affect other organs.

In 2021, about 21,410 women in the U.S. will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and 13,770 women will die from ovarian cancer, according to American Cancer Society.

Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 78. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 108. (These statistics don’t count low malignant potential ovarian tumors.)

The 2021 girlpARTs project added six new artists (the remainder of sculptures were done in 2019): Carolyn Krueger, Lisa Mahar, Marla Andich, Corrine Smith, Atlanta Fulscher and Gaye Burnett. There were 24 artists in the 2019 girlpARTs fest, and some of those sculptures were held over for this year; NormaLeah also did a small virtual event in November 2020.

A thousand paper cranes are often given to a person who is seriously ill to wish for their recovery. An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by the gods. Rock Island artist Carolyn Krueger folded all of the cranes on her torso sculpture.

Carolyn Krueger and her sculpture design, made with paper cranes, which is being displayed at Rock Island City Hall.

The artist primarily works with clay and her colorful, but functional, work is hand-built and wheel-thrown. She also dabbles in knitting, paper art, photography, painting, and collage. Krueger has served on the Arts Commission for the City of Rock Island since 2007, and is an advocate for all things art in our community.

She has also been teaching art and pottery for more than seventeen years and currently offers private pottery lessons and classes to students of all ages.

Marie Ziegler (community leader) has been a great supporter of NormaLeah through donations of her time and effort in creating magnificent baskets for its auctions and events.

You can see all the sculptures and find where they’re located HERE. For more information or to get involved, call NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Initiative at 309-794-0009. For more on its programs, visit www.normaleah.org, or email normaleah@normaleah.org.


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