23 models – all cancer survivors –celebrate their health

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times Jandy King, a breast cancer survivor, walks the runway.

“City of Lights” was the theme of the event, and Mariesa McCloud talked about it as she stood inside an eight-foot gold cardboard reproduction of the Eiffel Tower, holding pieces in place as other volunteers secured them with tape.

She’s been helping run and organize the Memorial Health Foundation Fashion Show all 15 years the show has been in existence.

“I love it,” she said. “I help the models choose clothing, and get to know them and what they’re going through. The stories are amazing.”

On Wednesday night it was rehearsal time, as the 23 models – all them cancer survivors, each with a unique story – strutted, strolled and danced on the catwalk as music echoed in the cavernous Dyson Baudo Recreation Center on the Marietta College campus. Tables were being set for the 700 guests, sound systems were being tested, and the models were getting rid of their jitters, joking with one another and occasionally sharing a spontaneous hug.

The voice of Laura Miller introduced each model and read their written testimonies to survival. Miller, who is marketing director for the Glenwood Retirement Community, said the trend began six years ago to identify people with cancer and those who had recovered as thrivers and survivors rather than victims.

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times Michelle Gasser, cancer-free for two years, models clothing by Teri Ann's.

“It was a game-changer, big time,” she said. “These are people who are thriving in the disease process. They’re choosing to embrace the life they have.”

Stan Keach, 80, wearing shorts and a T-shirt for the rehearsal, endured colon cancer 20 years ago. He said friends who volunteered for the fundraiser persuaded him to walk the runway.

Hilary Adams found out two weeks after her honeymoon that she had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. That was in 2002.

“For the first five years I was really sick, in and out of the hospital, but now it’s been 15 years since I stopped treatment,” she said.

She said she joined the fashion show because it started the same year her cancer stopped requiring treatment.

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times Dave Roe interacts with the audience Thursday night at the 15th Memorial Health Foundation Fashion Show. Roe is a lung cancer survivor who has been cancer-free for five months.

“It was time,” she said.

Adams credited her husband – who is a nurse and went into oncology for two years because he felt he could relate well to the patients – along with her family and her faith for her recovery.

“I tell people, God decided to keep me,” she said.

The show and the experience, she said, encourages cancer survivors and gives them hope.

Jandy King, 50, is a breast cancer survivor, having been diagnosed twice in the past two years, with emergency surgery in 2017. She’s finished with treatments but still has reconstructive surgery in the future.

“I get lots of support from all the others, we meet new people, we have something in common to talk about,” she said.

On Thursday night the crowd, more than 700 people, cheered, whistled and applauded as the models walked the runway, some throwing kisses, others waving, all radiating confidence.

Daneka Hedges, executive director for the foundation, said the event has a lasting impact on the models.

“They build lasting friendships, there’s a special camaraderie because they have something in common,” she said. “They gain confidence from this and have this amazing energy.”

The fundraiser was expected to bring in about $70,000, Hedges said. The proceeds are used by the health foundation to pay for mammograms and screenings for cancer patients.

At a glance

15th Memorial Health Foundation Fashion Show

≤ What is it: Fashion show and dinner to benefit patients at the Strecker Cancer Center.

≤ When and where: Dyson Baudo Recreation Center, Marietta College, Thursday night.

≤ Models: 23 cancer survivors.

≤ Attendance: 700 people, sold out with a wait list.