Pretty In Pink
Get a bunch of women together for a fashion show and there is bound to be lots of excitement, not to mention hairspray, in the air. But get a bunch of breast cancer survivors and supporters together for a fashion show, and there is electricity in the air.
That was certainly the case September 28 at Bella Vita Restaurante during the Project Pink fashion show. Project Pink actually developed from a brilliant idea on the part of the Central Indiana Komen for the Cure staff: They had some leftover Race for the Cure tee shirts that they offered to fashion students from the Art Institute of Indianapolis to design unique clothing and accessories.
Sarah Schmitz, the operations manager for the Central Indiana Komen office, says their office, which is located in the Pyramids, is in the same building as the Art Institute and its fashion department. Sarah says she reached out to the Beau Monde group to see if they would be willing to come up with some fun fashion designs and accessories using the leftover tee shirts. They were more than willing to do so, and the idea became a reality.
Using the TV show “Project Runway” as the inspiration, the plan was to highlight the designs in a fashion show in which breast cancer survivors and co-survivors would model the repurposed shirts. A panel of judges would pick a winning design. What resulted was a fashion show like none other with atGeist’s own Tom Britt serving as emcee, former Pacer Vern Fleming acting as one of the celebrity judges, and a former Miss Indiana doing some modeling. In all, there were 16 breast cancer survivors and co-survivors who walked the runway.
Sarah says the event saved lives because the money that was raised will go to low income women in central Indiana who can’t afford diagnosis or treatment. She says it also raised awareness across a wide range of age groups and formed relationships among some great people who came together to support a cause and each other. “My favorite moment from the night was seeing the models come back to the stage one last time and after the winning design was announced, all the models were smiling, crying, and hugging each other. They have found lifelong friends and a true support system due to this event. Women that are currently in treatment are talking to women who have been in their shoes and survived.”
One of those women is Becky Sage who has been a breast cancer survivor for 15 years now. Becky has been involved with Komen off and on over the years but has become very involved in the last five years. She is the chairperson for Race for the Cure this year, and she says she “stepped outside her comfort zone” to participate in Project Pink. It was a different world when she was diagnosed 15 years ago and there weren’t all the treatment options that there are now, Becky says. As a result, she had a radical mastectomy, followed by chemo and several reconstructive surgeries. Luckily, she had a great support system including that of her husband of 36 years. As a 15-year survivor, Becky says she hopes that she is an inspiration to women going through a recent diagnosis and treatment. “A 90% cure rate is great, but living with it, you have to realize all the changes down the road in your life. So I hope I am an inspiration”.
Jenna Gelhausen’s inspiration for walking the Project Pink runway was her mother who was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in 2004 and was told she only had two months to live. The doctors were wrong and she survived another three years with what Jenna says was, amazingly, a great quality of life. enna calls her tenacious. “She got through it all with humor. But she just wasn’t ready to go so she said to God, ‘I’ve got things to do yet!’ It’s will power. Not to talk down to those who are ravaged by disease, but I think it’s her will to live that kept her going.” And she managed to keep going long enough to see Jenna married. Unfortunately, she succumbed in 2007, just one week after Jenna’s son was born. Jenna was grateful to have the chance to participate in Project Pink because she says she had been mad at breast cancer for so long and this gave her a chance to help others not have to go through what she and her mother went through.
“It seems silly but putting a smile on their faces seemed to galvanize people” she says of the Project Pink experience. She says there were lots of tears – but not just sad tears, happy tears, too. She thinks Project Pink opened people’s eyes.
It’s certainly eye opening that women are still dying from this disease. Project Pink was dedicated to those who have lost their battle with breast cancer, including Sara Moyer Carpentar who was diagnosed in 2007 at the age of 26. She lived cancer free for four years and was pregnant with her first child when she discovered her cancer had returned. Sara died the day before the fashion show, leaving behind her husband and 17-week-old baby daughter.
Sarah Schmitz says she is amazed and inspired by how generous everyone was in their support of the event including Henri and Shelley Najem, who were more than happy to host it at Bella Vita, and all the hair and makeup stylists who volunteered their time, too. As a result, it was a rousing success, raising more than its $10,000 goal. Not bad for a first attempt. Project Runway may have more glitz and glamour, but Project Pink has a whole lot more heart.