Inspired by role, 'The Chi' actress takes portraits of breast cancer survivors for Chicago exhibit

Ross plays Jada on Showtime series 'The Chi'
CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's a case of art imitating life to save lives.

Yolonda Ross does not have breast cancer, but her character Jada on the Showtime series "The Chi" does.

"It's a storyline that I know will be interesting, that work will be done; I will be learning, and I will be putting something out there that will hopefully be making a difference," said Ross, who is an actress, writer and director for "The Chi."

A random sequence of events is making a difference in the lives of breast cancer survivors.

RELATED: As Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to end, Chicago doctor discusses new research

"She reached out to, what I understand, Northwestern Hospital, who kind of put her in touch with women who are actual survivors," said Tatisa Joiner, president and founder of the Tatisa C. Joiner Foundation.

Those survivors are the Butterflies, members of Joiner's foundation, who then met with Ross to share stories of their journeys.

"Working with Yolonda was amazing," said Deonna Wardlow-Onyango, a 10-month breast cancer survivor. "She's very down to earth, she's very polite and she's very talented. I think she really got so deep into her character that she is really able to vocalize how we feel."

Ross said playing this role changed her.

"What really got to me was the hair cutting," she said. "I was nervous, I was scared, I was thinking about Jada's mortality, I was thinking about my mortality. I shaved my hair because women who are going through it don't have the option, and I had the option to showcase this truthfully. I can't say that I've ever seen a Black woman do that on screen."

And breast cancer survivors appreciated her show of strength.

"It was so powerful watching her shave her head, and I did the same thing," said Adrieane Upchurch, a one-year breast cancer survivor. "It was so empowering!"

RELATED: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, time to bring attention to disease

Ross' performance also inspired Rhonda Feinberg of the Feinberg Foundation to make a $100,000 donation to three nonprofits in the women of color breast cancer community.

"Mallory Talty took a photo of me after being newly shaved and the response was crazy, and it made me feel, in a way, I would like to photograph some of the Butterflies," Ross said.

Shanette Caywood, a nine-year Stage 4 breast cancer survivor, said breast cancer isn't pretty.

"It's ugly, and at times you feel ugly when you're going through. Being a part of the photo shoot, it got a chance to capture the beauty outside, but remind me about the beauty inside as well," she said.

The rest of the portraits will be revealed by Ross at the Beauty Is Me exhibit at 11 a.m. Saturday at Hilton Asmus Contemporary Studio in Bridgeport. The event is free and open to the public.

"You may not feel as womanly or as beautiful as you are but us looking at you? Different story!" Ross said.
Copyright © 2022 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.