Take a look at these women. Beautiful, aren't they?
But that's not the only thing they have in common.
They've all had breast cancer, and for most that meant rounds of chemo and radiation and painful surgery that took one or both of their breasts.
But the hard part is behind them. Here's where the fun begins. This month, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, they're appearing in the Beauty and Bravery calendar, with its sales benefiting the American Cancer Society.
They dressed up in vintage clothes and makeup and laughed their way through photo shoots to show other women — the estimated 178,000 who'll be diagnosed this year — that breast cancer isn't the end. Of anything.
The calendar is the brainstorm of Arsine Kaloustian, owner of a Fort Lauderdale marketing/PR company, and Boca Raton plastic surgeon Andrew Rosenthal, who did the breast reconstruction on all but one of the women. (That was Trudy Slone, who happens to be his mother and counts herself as lucky. She only had a lumpectomy.)
When we asked five of the 12 women to talk about their experience, they spoke of the fear and the rage. But also of families and friends that kept them standing. And the strength they never knew they had. And the joy they feel helping women face what they already conquered.
Breast cancer, they say, focuses your attention and re-arranges your priorities. It's a learning experience like no other and it taught them this: There's nothing quite as sexy as being alive.
The Calendar Girls tell their stories. Page 14
Geri Bell, 38, Fort LauderdaleIn 2000, Bell had a lumpectomy on her right breast. In 2006, when cancer returned, she had both breasts removed. Bell is co-chair of the South Palm Beach unit of the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, a 5K walk.
I'm single and it's not easy being 38 and twice diagnosed with breast cancer. What kind of catch am I? But I don't hide anything from the men I date. I'm not ashamed of who I am and the experiences I've had.
You have your bad days when you cry and get it out. But then you let it go. Through all this I've found out who I am. I've learned I don't like being unhappy. It's so much more fun to smile.
You keep looking until you find a silver lining in all this. Hey, how many women in Boca get a free boob job?
Donna Braun, 42, Boynton BeachAfter losing her right breast to cancer two years ago, Braun changed professions. Previously in property management, she now works as a certified thermographer, helping diagnose early tumor growth.
The doctor's nurse practitioner told my daughter, 'Honey, if your mother doesn't get chemotherapy, she'll die.' I wasn't scared at that point. I was angry. I thought, 'You don't know what you're talking about. There's no way I'm dying. I'm not going anywhere.'
My daughter Melissa was 16 then. I had thoughts about her — watching her grow up, go to college and get married. I wanted to see all those things. Cancer wasn't going to stop me.
Trudy Slone, 61, Fort Lauderdale
Before she retired, Slone owned furniture stores, did volunteer work and raised two sons, including Andrew Rosenthal, the Boca plastic surgeon who did the reconstructions on the rest of these women. A year ago, she had a lumpectomy on her right breast.
About eight or nine months before my diagnosis, my grandson, Cole, was diagnosed with a rare sarcoma.
After I was diagnosed, he asked if he'd given me cancer. I assured him he hadn't. He's 7 now and doing fine.
During my treatments I thought, 'If my grandson can fight cancer, I can fight it, too.' The whole thing was a reminder to me that cancer can strike anybody at any time, any age.
I've lived long enough to know that life brings ups and downs. You need to say, 'You can do it' and help and support other people. That's what helped me to stay strong.
Carolann Boos, 63, Highland Beach
After being diagnosed last year, Boos had her left breast removed. She's a grandmother of five and works as a Clinique events coordinator.
Weeks after my surgery, my husband said, 'We need to get you moving.' First we walked as far as the car. Then to the sidewalk. Then across the street. Pretty soon I was walking three miles a day. Then I started running.
I decided to run the Susan G. Komen three-miler this past January. The night before I thought, 'I'll never be able to do this.' But I told myself and my husband, 'I'm going to do it.' And I did.
Before my diagnosis, I didn't exercise. Now I'm so thankful I can. Every day I put on my running shoes and my headset and I run.
I say, 'Do something wonderful for yourself every day.'
Gina Castronovo, 44, Lighthouse PointThe wife of longtime South Florida DJ Paul Castronovo, Gina has talked openly about losing both breasts to cancer last year.
When I first got ill, we decided to tell the listeners. No hiding. We just put it out there. My husband has been amazing. When you're first diagnosed, you have these questions. Will he still find me sexy, attractive? He says to me, 'All I want is your head on a plate.'
At a fundraiser recently I had the chance to meet Elizabeth Edwards and we talked about our treatments. One thing she said that I'll never forget: 'The only side effect I can't tolerate is dying.'
I said, 'You've got that right. The rest of it — bring it on.'Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times