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Health Column: Local survivor designs new breast cancer emblem

Detection in Time

Shawn Widmyer-Natale’s whole world changed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 30s.

The Southold resident noticed a lump in her left breast and, having been relatively healthy all her life, assumed it was a cyst. But on July 13, 1989, she learned that wasn’t the case.

She underwent a lumpectomy — a surgery that removes the cancerous lump rather than removing all the breast tissue, as a mastectomy requires — followed by months of radiation and chemotherapy.

Now a 27-year survivor, Ms. Widmyer-Natale is using art and fashion to stress the importance of early detection, which she credits with saving her life.

“Get routine mammograms like you’re going to the dentist, like it’s part of your life,” she said. “And self-exam. I found mine through self-exam, and I was young.”

A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology and lifelong artist, Ms. Widmyer-Natale designed an emblem she felt represented not only her personal battle with breast cancer, but the struggle thousands of other woman face.

The emblem features a distressed clock, representing the “trials and tribulations” of those afflicted, along with gilded keys symbolizing how vital early detection is to a good outcome. The pink ribbon of hope — the symbol of breast cancer awareness — is wrapped around the clock.

“It’s more like a mission than a project,” she said. “It’s creating a new emblem for breast cancer awareness.”

Ms. Widmyer-Natale took the clock design and put it on a silk scarf, which she began selling. As time passed she expanded the line to include other clothing items as well as bags, note cards and ceramic and porcelain products.

Items with the clock emblem can be purchased at www.detectionintime.life. A portion of the proceeds goes to breast cancer research, especially focused on methods of early detection. Organizations that will benefit include the North Fork Breast Health Coalition and The SASS Foundation for Medical Research in Roslyn.

“We stay on Long Island, which I think is nice and important because [breast cancer] is so prevalent on Long Island,” she said. “And I believe in grass roots and helping what’s right in your own backyard.”

The size of a breast cancer tumor and how far it spreads are two of the most important factors when it comes to determining a woman’s prognosis, with many doctors feeling that early detection saves thousand of lives each year, the American Cancer Society reported.

Nearly 250,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed annually with an invasive form of breast cancer, and one in about 36 of those diagnosed will die from it.

Ms. Widmyer-Natale and her partners, friends Debra and Ashley McDonald, also participate in numerous events in the tri-state area. Most recently, they walked and sold items at the North Fork Breast Health Coalition’s 5K Walk for Breast Cancer Awareness at Tanger Outlets.

Additionally, the scarf hangs in the breast health wings at Eastern Long Island and Southampton hospitals.

“All of a sudden it just came to me, because that’s how it saved my life,” she said of the idea for the scarf. “Detection in time. I was 32 when I was diagnosed and I felt it myself. I’m so blessed that I had early detection.”

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File photo: Southold resident and cancer survivor Shawn Widmyer-Natale (right) is the owner of Detection in Time, a fashion line that raises awareness for breast cancer. She’s pictured with her business partner, Debra McDonald, whose mother died from breast cancer. (Credit: Elizabeth Wagner)