PHILADELPHIA — The crowd was so dense moving was difficult. People drank Corona straight from the bottle, and draft beers from red Solo cups. A DJ, surrounded by flashing lights and throbbing speakers, spun crowd-pleasing dance tracks. Silvery Mylar balloons, swaying gently overhead, spelled out T-A-T-A. As in, goodbye. As in, breasts.
“I lifted my shirt a few times. It was the farewell tour!” said Andy Sealy, 37, of South Philadelphia.
Sealy organized this party at the bar Bop because she had something she had to get off her chest. Two things, really. A double mastectomy was scheduled for Wednesday. So Sealy — a chronic optimist, silver-lining finder, and maker of proverbial lemonade — declared Sunday night a “Ta-ta to My Tatas.”
As she said in the Facebook invitation to 200 friends and family: “I’ve had great boobs since Dr. Mirabile gave them to me on 1/3/2007 and now the docs are taking them back.”
Sealy wanted to give them a proper send-off.
She had hoped that would be a quick getaway to someplace tropical, bathing-suit worthy, before her treatment. “But when I got the surgery date, it just wasn’t going to be possible,” she said.
A party (dress code: bikini-top optional) was the next best thing.
“I wanted to do something for people I’m close to, so they could say goodbye and feel my tumor,” Sealy said. It was to be a celebration. “I don’t want people to feel bad for me, because I don’t feel bad. Don’t say sorry to me, because I’m not that type of person.”
Sealy isn’t the first person to throw a cancer-themed party: Dana Cowin, the former longtime editor of Food and Wine, told her staff of her diagnosis with pink cupcakes and champagne, then had a halfway-through-chemo party and a post-radiation party. Others have thrown parties to celebrate completing chemotherapy, or the remission of their cancer. There is no shortage of party supplies designed for the purpose.
But Sealy put her own, unique twist on the concept.
A few months ago, Sealy — who works as a sales representative for restaurant point-of-sale systems and as a part-time bartender — didn’t anticipate the need for such a party.
But during a breast self-exam, she noticed a lump. Then she found another. She thought it might be a problem with her implants, or maybe something more serious. So, in January, she had a mammogram and ultrasound, then biopsies of three tumors.
“They were great. It didn’t really bother me. Not much really bothers me.”
Then the doctor called. Two of the tumors were malignant.
“He said, ‘You have breast cancer,’ and I said, ‘Say it one more time.’ Then I said, ‘All right. Cool. What’s next?’”
What’s next is the double mastectomy, when she’ll also find out whether the cancer has spread. Then, maybe chemotherapy, depending on the diagnosis, or hormone therapy.
So, before all that, she invited 200 of her closest friends to give them a squeeze, or at least to salute them. Some brought gifts. There was a cake — a breast cake — with pink nipples, ruffled frosting lingerie, and a caption in fondant: “Thanks for the mammories.”
In one way, this party was no joke: Sealy wanted to spread the gospel of breast self-exams, even though the American Cancer Society’s current guidelines, updated in 2015, no longer recommend them.
“I was telling people, ‘Want to feel my tumor? Feel my tumor. That’s cancer. That’s what it feels like. I want you to feel yourself,’” she said. “This is making it fun at the same time, but making people aware, people that I love.”
Jamie Curro, 39, of South Philadelphia, showed up wearing a black bikini top under an open, animal-print shirt.
“I’m for nothing if not a theme party!” she said of her outfit.
But she’s aware of the seriousness of the situation: She lost another friend to breast cancer last year.
“Andy’s been here for me when my other friend died. Talk about irony,” she said.
Megan Monahan, 30, Sealy’s roommate, started to explain why a post-diagnosis party seemed like an obvious choice.
“She’s always the life of the party, so this is ideal. She finds the positive in everything.”
Then Sealy pulled her away for a dance break.
“Sorry, we can’t miss the chorus on that song!” Monahan said. She believes the party made the diagnosis just a bit less frightening. “It shows all the people that support her and love her and care about her and are going to be there for her.”
Many had worked with Sealy at bars in the area. Cherise Poserina, a part-time bartender and longtime friend of Sealy’s who lost her mother to breast cancer, dropped by with a $2,000 check. She started a nonprofit in her mother’s memory, Debbie’s Friends Fund, for just this purpose.
Huddled in one corner was Sealy’s family, taking in the scene.
Sealy’s oldest sister, Ruth Johnson, 47, of Sharon Hill, was wearing a hand-embellished pink T-shirt that read “Ta-ta to Andy’s tatas.”
When she heard about the party, Johnson said, “I wasn’t surprised at all. It’s just who she is. Her struggle never becomes a struggle. She’s been like that since she was a baby.”
That optimism runs in the family. Johnson, too, sees the upside here.
“As far as my family is concerned, this is just another opportunity to share our blessings with others,” she said. “We come together through it. Right away, she started talking to her nieces about the importance of checking their boobies.”
As the night wore on, more bikini tops were revealed. The breast cake was devoured in a manner not fit for print.
Curro called the night a success.
“It’s even better than I thought it would be, because everyone here is celebrating. There’s no tears, no sadness,” she said. “If you can turn this into a party, world peace is right around the corner.”