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‘Scarf therapy’ soothes breast cancer survivors

BarbarBates 2012 'Knocking Out Breast Cancer' evening with special guests supporters. | Chicago Imaging Solutions 2012.

Barbara Bates 2012 "Knocking Out Breast Cancer" evening with special guests and supporters. | Chicago Imaging Solutions 2012.

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Updated: December 5, 2012 6:36AM

When fashion designer Barbara Bates first laid eyes on the animal print Hermes scarf, she was in the midst of a breast-cancer battle.

Sun-Times reader Eleva Singleton had sent me the scarf from her private collection when I was going through breast cancer treatment in 2009.

I couldn’t keep it, and passed it on to Bates, who was diagnosed shortly after I finished chemotherapy.

“If I can’t keep this scarf, I definitely want you to have it — then pass it on,” I wrote in a letter I sent with the scarf in October 2009.

“I open the package. I see the box. I read the letter. I was just stunned,” recalled Bates.

After Bates completed her treatment, she passed the scarf on to a close friend, Dee Dee Osobar.

“It wasn’t mine to hold onto and when someone really close to me [was diagnosed], I just did it,” she said.

She included our letters in a separate envelope that she tucked inside the box.

“As you can see by reading the letters enclosed, this gift is ‘scarf therapy.’ I hope you’ll enjoy it and then pass it on,” Bates wrote in her letter to Osobar.

Osobar, an ordained minister and the executive director of SISTAH, Sisters in Sobriety Transformed, Anointed and Healed, had been diagnosed with breast cancer on Feb. 9, 2010 — her birthday.

Six months after her diagnosis, Osobar said Bates told her she had something for her.

“I was really excited. I thought she had an outfit for me,” Osobar said with a laugh. “But when I saw the box, I was like, ‘Oooh.’ When she shared the story [of the scarf] and said it was time for her to pass it on to me, that was powerful. But also we are talking about the scarf of all scarves. I put that bad boy around my neck and asked if I could keep it,” Osobar said.

“She said no. You can keep it for a while, but you have to pass it on.”

Osobar passed the scarf on to Elder Frances Davis, an ordained minister at Valley Kingdom Ministries International, Oak Forest.

In her letter to Davis, Osobar wrote:

“I remember the very first time you prayed over me last year when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. I pass the cancer scarf onto you to cuddle in when some of your days might seem or feel lonely.”

“I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the gift,” Davis recalled.

“I don’t believe I read the other letters because I was crying so much. I put the scarf away because I never wanted to soil the scarf in any way.”

On Oct. 20, 2012, the scarf made a full circle when Davis came into contact with Bates.

Davis was one of 55 cancer survivors who participated in the “Knocking out Breast Cancer” charity event last Sunday.

The Barbara Bates Foundation put the fashion show together in conjunction with the Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation.

“I was just sitting home and the Lord said give the scarf to Barbara. She is doing so much. She is absolutely the perfect person,” Davis told me. “I put it in the gift bag and covered it with tissues and gave it to her.”

Bates was shocked.

“I open up the box and my mind still doesn’t want to go there,” Bates said. “But there were the letters. Everybody is boo-hooing. This is my scarf that has come back. The scarf has to stop here.”

In three years, the scarf made it through the hands of four women from different walks of life — a powerful reminder of the prevalence of this disease.

But together, we can fight back.

Get annual mammograms, follow up on suspicious lumps or changes, and consider participating in clinical trials.

It is our prayer that our beautiful scarf will be a reminder — not just of the battle fought, but also of the battle won.

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