How Frozen Peas Started A Movement

By Craig Colgan
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, January 10, 2008

Applying a bag of frozen peas directly to her breast shortly after undergoing a needle biopsy that day in December made perfect sense to Susan Reynolds.

"Ice packs are hard and heavy," Reynolds wrote on her blog. "As much as I try to be a good sport I'm not into having a brick sitting on my chest. That bag of peas added a touch of lightness to what could have been a sad and serious tale."

And just like that, a mini-movement was born.

Reynolds, who lives in Sterling, is an artist, an art teacher, a consultant and a devoted participant of social networking Web sites. She had breast cancer, as it turned out, and underwent a mastectomy Dec. 21 followed by reconstructive surgery and more soothing applications of frozen peas.

On the blog she started immediately after her cancer fight began -- called (really) Boobs On Ice -- Reynolds detailed all this and included a photo of the bag of frozen peas peeking out from underneath her camisole. She also used that photo as her onscreen identifier, or avatar, on the discussion site Twitter.com.

Inspired by Reynolds's photo, dozens of people in her Twitter community -- and others who had found out about her diagnosis through the Internet -- began creating pea-themed photos in a show of sympathy. They posted the images on the photo-sharing site Flickr.com, or used them as their avatars (which, in this case, have come to be known as "peavatars") on Twitter.

Reynolds said the number of people following and replying to her writings on Twitter has reached about 1,300.

"How this has all spread -- it's magic," she said.

The frozen peas not only have sparked messages of support for Reynolds, 59, but have become the emblem of an online community of people sharing their experiences with cancer.

"Women are doing breast self-exams and men are sharing about their aunt's or sister's or mother's struggles with cancer because they are reminded or inspired by something as everyday as peas," Reynolds said.

The Internet buzz soon turned into a low roar as the peas people got noticed by hundreds of bloggers, well-known and otherwise. "The communities may be virtual, but the friendships formed there are real," wrote Shel Israel, co-author of the book "Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk With Customers," on one blog referencing the peas phenomenon.

A New York resident who is one of Reynolds's Twitter followers came up with the idea of donating the equivalent of the cost of two bags of frozen peas, about $5, to cancer research. That led Connie Reece, another online friend, to establish the Frozen Pea Fund. As of early this week, the fund had raised $7,171 from contributors on three continents since its launch Dec. 21, said Reece, who lives in Austin.


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