Opinion: Stage 4 Models Take the Stage


METAvivor hosted a fashion show titled #Cancerland to raise money for breast cancer awareness (Photo Courtesy of METAvivor)

This past New York Fashion Week, a group of brave models walked the runway at a fashion show organized by nonprofit METAvivor and lingerie company AnaOno. What made this show stand out among the many that week was the models themselves: 24 women living with metastatic stage 4 breast cancer.

METAvivor is an organization that is working to promote awareness of breast cancer while raising funds for research. The proceeds from the show, titled #Cancerland and celebrating its third year of existence, will go towards researching better treatments for the disease. METAvivor’s partner, AnaOno, was founded by Dana Donofree, who has been living with breast cancer since the age of 27. Her company began as a way to design pieces such as front-clasping bras, that were both beautiful and comfortable for women like herself after undergoing mastectomies or reconstructive surgery.

The show itself was the legacy of Champagne Joy, who died at age 49 in 2017 of metastatic breast cancer. In addition to fundraising, her goal for the event was to spread awareness about breast cancer and to empower patients with the disease.

As model Jaleh Panahi explained, “In this show, we told the world that we have lost our breasts but didn’t lose our femininity.” The patient-models in the show donned AnaOno lingerie, with many of the looks incorporating words such as “fierce,” “hopeful,” “fearless,” and “advocate.”

The patients bared their bodies and their scars in hopes of announcing their presence to the world. They walked for themselves, for other people living with metastatic breast cancer and for the people who have died from the disease. Of the one in eight women who develop breast cancer in the United States, one in three do not survive. Over 41,000 Americans die each year from stage 4 breast cancer, as the disease has a median survival rate of under three years. Although early-stage breast cancer can often be caught and treated, there are few available treatments for metastatic breast cancer. Thus men and women suffering from advanced breast cancer are banding together to create groups such as METAvivor, in hopes that one day there will be more effective treatments.

Through ticket sales and donations from pharmaceuticals such as Immunomedics, Allergan, Eisai and Pfizer, METAvivor raised approximately $100,000 to put towards research. With a $2 million budget, METAvivor is able to endow over 40 research grants and organize lobbies in Washington D.C., events and fundraisers.

Beth Fairchild, METAvivor’s president, believes that the fashion show is such a courageous and empowering method of fundraising. “It takes a lot of courage for a healthy person to do what we all did, not to mention a cancer patient covered in scars, or bald, or both,” Fairchild said.

Terlisa Sheppard is another model who derived strength from the event, after living with metastatic breast cancer for 17 years, since age 34. Her breast cancer has spread to her bones, lungs, liver, spine, abdomen and brain and yet she thrives. “I’ve gone through all of that … and here I am, walking in New York Fashion Week. How dare I!” Sheppard said.

The event has given a platform to a group that has often felt silenced or hidden. It has given many the courage to be bold about their illness and to fight for a treatment. Participants and observers of the show agree that metastatic breast cancer should not have to be a death sentence. With proper research and advocacy, it may one day be a treatable illness. In the meantime, it is important to create events such as #Cancerland where metastatic breast cancer patients and their supporters can gather to make themselves seen and heard. Visibility is the first step towards making a difference.

Veronica Eskander is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at veronica.eskander@uconn.edu.  

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