It's been 23 years since Sara O’Brien found the journal that her mother kept throughout her battle with cancer.
She was a college student in Athens, GA, but had already been dealing with the loss of her parent for a decade.
But along the way, it was the art and music that turned her grief into the inspiration for the five-city Breast Fest benefit that eventually became The Tyanna Foundation, named for her late mother.
"When death happens to a loved one, especially a close family member, I feel like something hits you at seven years," O'Brien said.
"That’s what happened to me through my music, which was such a huge outlet for me at the time."
Together with her sisters Katie O’Brien Vogel, of Haddon Twp., and Bridget O’Brien Mink, of Haddonfield, O'Brien directs 90 percent of the profits from The Tyanna Foundation into patient comfort and treatment funds for women suffering from breast cancer.
They've been successful enough to have raised more than $1 million in that time, even pledging a $250,000 contribution to the Tyanna Barre O’Brien Breast Care and Comfort Fund at Virtua Voorhees this April.
"This fund funds medication for women who cannot afford them, or their insurance lapses," O'Brien said; "We want to make sure it serves the underserved."
But O'Brien points out that although the event is intended to do real, material good for those in need, Breast Fest is as much as a celebration of life as it is of remembrance.
"Initially it wasn’t about my mother and her breast cancer, it was about her spirit," she said.
"As musicians and artists, our job on this planet is to relay the human condition; whether it’s paid or volunteer, that’s our role to take."
And there are plenty of volunteers and artists among the participants at this year's festivities.
"It was more just sort of Sara's event, but now it's personal," said John Shaughnessy of Haddon Township, who missed the event last year because his wife, Kristina, was battling breast cancer.
"We can take a little pride now that it's been a whole year since Kristina completed her treatment," he said.
Their daughters, Nora and Jill, have participated in events at Studio LuLoo "for as long as they remember," John Shaughnessy said, and Kristina's sister is a two-time breast cancer survivor—so when Kristina was diagnosed, the family had a built-in support system.
To be received by the community of local musicians as she battled her illness was "overwhelming and incredible at the same time," Kristina Shaughnessy said, adding that the outlet provided by Studio LuLoo helped the family "keep things as normal as possible" during her treatment.
"I think to be with Sara and to be with those girls who write their music and journal, and express their feelings, it was good for Jill to be there," she said, "especially, being just 12 years old, to have a safe place to talk about how she felt."
When her girls perform some of the music they wrote with O'Brien at that time, "it touches me as a mother and as a woman," Kristina Shaughnessy said.
"I want them to know that the strength I had to fight breast cancer came from how much I love them and they love me," she said.
"I don't want them to grow up into young women being afraid that this is the disease that is going to affect them."
"Breast Fest has been unbelievably cathartic," O'Brien said. "The disease part is one thing, but as far as families and patient care, it’s been really empowering to be able to help others deal with death and dying and grieving."
BreastFest New Jersey will be held Saturday, June 8th, from 3 to 9 p.m. at the Taproom and Grill on 427 Crystal Lake Avenue, in Haddon Twp.
For more information, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 856-428-4444.
Tickets are $40 in advance or $50 at the door; $10 for children and $5 for kids 5 years and younger. All proceeds benefit the Tyanna Foundation and Virtua’s Breast Care & Comfort Fund.
Purchase tickets online or in person at:
- Studio LuLoo
- Philly’s Phatties
- Treehouse Coffee Shop
- Taproom & Grill
- Bell’s Bodies
- Mindy’s Place
BreastFest Kids! FEST—3-6 p.m.
Presented by Revolution Youth and Community Rocks!
Live music, food, drink, face-painting, arts, crafts, games, airbrush tattoos, dunk tank, moonbounce & more!
Best of BreastFest Food Tastings—6-9 p.m.
Featuring samples from:
- The Kove
- Franco’s Place
- Keg & Kitchen
- Anthony’s Creative Italian Cuisine
- The Irish Mile
- Treehouse Coffee Shop
- Bistro di Marino
- Aunt Aggie’s Homemade Cookies
- Arnie’s Butcher & Gourmet Shop
- Severino Homemade Pasta
- Hollingsworth Cookies & Fine Desserts
- Philly’s Phatties
Live Music sponsored by CROW TOWN RECORDS and Forkin, McShane, Manos & Rotz, Family Mediation and Law.
- Gabriel Lipko
- Zero Ground
- Ovations Dance Studio
- Sara O'Brien and the Community Rocks! Kids
- Amerikick Demo Teams
- The Wayside Shakeup
- Mary Hates the Relics
- Ray Long Band
- Straight Truth
- DJ Crease Bogle
- Tess Emma
- Jeff Selby
- The Commiserators
- The LuLoo Love Crew
- Pete Donnelly
- eric13 & Johnny Richie
- John Shaughnessy & Steve Goldstein
- BS and the Truth
- Candy Volcano
- Spinning Vinyl
- Baby Diaz
- Heroes in Error