Cancer survivors bravely stride fashion runway
Nine brave women with flashing eyes, high hair and long legs sashayed the runway at The DoubleTree by Hilton last week, raised nearly $10,000 for St. Mary’s Hospital Foundation and displayed the inner strength and beauty that makes them each a cancer survivor.
Some of the first-time models had to overcome a measure of stage fright and self-doubt to take the fashion-forward walk at the Fourth Annual Survive Fashion Show, said Deanna Colaizzi, the foundation’s development manager who helped organize the fundraising event.
Others, like clinical research manager Mary Vaughn, a breast cancer survivor, were “elated” by the chance to finally show off their inner-diva in metro-chic togs and makeup.
“It was a dream come true. I’m known as a diva around here. I have 100 pairs of shoes. Everyone knows I love my fashion. It’s a creative expression of myself,” Vaughn said.
Perhaps her favorite outfit of the evening consisted of a pink leopard coat, silk scarf and pleather skirt from Klik Clothing Company.
“It was so sexy and beautiful and I’m a size 12. I have some crazy curves. For me, this was such a huge thing — to walk that runway with lots of booty going on. It was fabulous. And I owned that runway in my five-inch stilettos. It was a phenomenal experience in every way,” she said.
As much as the fashion, Vaughn loved the chance to spend the day with fellow cancer survivors.
“I haven’t really had the luxury of just being a cancer survivor,” she said. “I’m a health care professional and my diagnosis is secondary to what I do. It’s not the forefront of my life. Helping others is my priority in life. So sharing the experience with them was so beautiful and profound for me. It was something I will treasure for the rest of my life.”
Models spent nine hours — from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — getting ready for the New York-style show. Though hair styles and makeup took up much of the prep time, it was the moments they spent talking to each other that most will remember, Colaizzi said.
“I talked to one of the models after the event. She is the kind of a person who keeps to herself. She doesn’t really talk about her experience,” Colaizzi said. “She came up to me and said, ‘Thank you, thank you for involving me in this because I met some great women and ... really (got to) bond with them.’ “
As part of the event, each of the survivor models shared their personal experiences in video biographies that were shown on a big screen.
“I think that it was a true act of bravery,” Vaughn said. “Sharing the hardship in their journey in life and with cancer, with their families. To put it up there on the big screen for everyone to see. To say, ‘This is me. This is what I’ve been through.’ ”
Free of cancer for four years, Vaughn said she was diagnosed Sept. 1, 2009.
“When I first found the changes in my right breast, knowing what I know, I was very worried and I had a very hard time just going to see one of my colleagues about it. I had that horrible feeling that it was cancer.”
When the biopsy results were announced, Vaughn said she was devastated.
“I just cried and cried and cried. It was my worst fears realized,” she said.
Because she was not a candidate for a lumpectomy, Vaughn underwent a double mastectomy and several reconstruction surgeries that created new breasts out of silicone implants. She chose not to take part in a clinical trial that might have exposed her to chemotherapy, which normally damages the heart.
Instead, Vaughn went through two years of hormone therapy, but, due to side effects like uncontrollable rage and multiple joint pain, she stopped the treatments three years before her doctors recommended.
“I’m a creative person who likes to knit and paint and hike. The (hormone therapy) got in the way of my ability to fight cancer in other ways,” Vaughn said. “I personally believe that hiking fourteeners is a suitable cancer treatment for anybody.”
She climber her first, Mount Sherman, with her mother earlier this year.
“It was triumphant, affirming that yes, I can do this.”
In addition to mountain climbing, Vaughn backpacks, most recently, a 37-mile trek in Utah that required her to carry 50 pounds on her back for several days.
“The key is — from what my interpretation of what a good anti-cancer plan is — that diet and exercise is a critical component in staying healthy and fighting cancer,” Vaughn said. “I took that risk, that trade-off. I know I may be at an increased risk for my cancer coming back, but if I don’t live right now and eat healthy and get out and exercise and reduce my stress, I ain’t going to live at all.”