More than 900 ‘step out for pink’ at Breast Cancer Alliance event

Women and men were celebrated as survivors at the annual event. From left, Sally Michler, Jane Sprung, Lisa Levesque, Stefanie Steel, Leslie Petrick, Tucker Melancon, Karen Lowney, Lynn Carnegie, Steve Cone, Tomomi Arikawa, Keiko Arikaw and Lisa Fleming all stood together. — Elaine Ubina photo

Women and men were celebrated as survivors at the annual event. From left, Sally Michler, Jane Sprung, Lisa Levesque, Stefanie Steel, Leslie Petrick, Tucker Melancon, Karen Lowney, Lynn Carnegie, Steve Cone, Tomomi Arikawa, Keiko Arikaw and Lisa Fleming all stood together.
— Elaine Ubina photo

More than 900 people “kicked up their heels and stepped out for pink” on Nov. 7 at the Breast Cancer Alliance’s (BCA’s) 18th Annual Luncheon & Fashion Show, helping to raise funds and awareness for the disease.

The annual event, conducted in partnership with the Mitchells/Richards group of stores, aims to further the non-corporate organization’s mission to improve survival rates and quality of life for those impacted by breast cancer through better prevention, early detection, treatment, and cure. Held at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich — the only appropriate town facility large enough to play host to nearly 1,000 people — the afternoon affair featured a live and silent auction, keynote speech by NBC4 anchor and breast cancer survivor Pat Battle, a Mitchells/Richards fashion show led by 12 breast cancer survivors, and a post-event Manolo Blahnik trunk show and tea.

In fact, Mr. Blahnik, a world-famous footwear designer, created two different styles of shoes for the Breast Cancer Alliance in “BCA pink,” complete with a dedication to the BCA on the sole, which were sold exclusively at Richards of Greenwich throughout early fall. Manolo Blahnik and Richards donated 20% of the proceeds to the organization, which is dedicated to providing a variety of forms of breast cancer care, especially to women who are uninsured and underserved.

Additionally, in keeping with the event’s shoe theme, Richards once again held its “Year of Shoes” auction at the luncheon. The offer allowed the highest bidders the opportunity to select one pair of free shoes from Richards every month for one year, which is approximately a $6,000 value. Ultimately coming to a $10,000 bid, the Year of Shoes offer was taken up by five event attendees, providing the BCA with a total of $50,000 in additional funding.

Sharing her own story of survival with attendees, keynote speaker and co-anchor of Weekend Today in New York Pat Battle highlighted the importance of early breast cancer detection, which she believes saved her life.

Ms. Battle explained to attendees that although pink isn’t her color, the fuchsia suit she wears to all breast cancer functions, including the BCA luncheon, is a symbol of her mission to educate others on the importance of receiving annual mammograms.

“This suit is my armor,” Ms. Battle said. “This suit is my uniform because I am on a mission. … I’m on a mission to inform women and men about early detection.”

Ms. Battle, who had no family history of breast cancer, was diagnosed with the disease in the fall of 2010. Considering it a personal matter, she did not share the news with even her closest co-workers, hoping to undergo surgery and return to work without others finding out, she said. Ms. Battle’s surgeon, however, made her think twice.

Elisa Port, chief of breast surgery at Mt. Sinai Hospital, told Ms. Battle that when a person is diagnosed with breast cancer, it isn’t simply that individual and his or her immediate family that is impacted, Ms. Battle said. Dr. Port urged that a “universe” of people are affected — friends, colleagues, neighbors, the woman at the local department store who sees you once or twice a month. This realization impacted Ms. Battle’s reluctance to share her fight with the disease, but it wasn’t until a few words from her husband took effect that she decided to go public, she said.

According to Ms. Battle, it was on a trip back from a weekend anniversary celebration in Canada with her husband that she realized the significance of opening up about her battle. During their drive, Ms. Battle’s husband asked her for what seemed like the millionth time if she would share her story, insisting that if her story resonated with one person it could save a life, she said. Then he changed his approach. He asked his wife what her mother would have expected her to do, and right then and there Ms. Battle said she changed her mind.

“I looked at him, and for the first time in 16 years of marriage, I said, ‘Honey, you’re right,’” Ms. Battle said, eliciting a laugh from the audience.

Ms. Battle had decided to open up to not only her co-workers but also her viewers. With her surgery scheduled for the following morning, she spent the rest of the day getting permission from various authorities to film her surgery for the hourlong special Talk for a Cure, which aired the next day on Weekend Today in New York and ultimately earned two New York Emmy nominations.

The response to Ms. Battle’s story following the program was overwhelming, she said. Messages via phone, email and social media came pouring in from hundreds of women all over the country who thanked her for sharing not only her fight with breast cancer but critical information about mammograms and medical procedures associated with the disease. She now keeps each of those messages in a file to remind her of what her mission is, she said.

“I’m here. I’m strong. I’m here with a message and my message is, again, early detection,” Ms. Battle said. “Every time you see a picture of the girl with the fuchsia suit. … I want you to turn and say, ‘You know what the girl with the fuchsia suit told me to ask Amy and Meghan and Abigail and Janie — when was the last time you had a mammogram?’” she said.

Although she never wanted to be a poster girl for breast cancer, Ms. Battle said she is very proud of her mission and “wouldn’t trade it for anything.” It’s important for others to further that mission, she said, by remembering to ask loved ones if they’ve received their annual mammogram and by asking those battling the disease if they need support at a radiation treatment, help with dinner or a babysitter for their children. This urgent message is based on Ms. Battle’s “true love and compassion for my fellow human beings, men and women,” she said.

Following Ms. Battle’s speech was the Survivors Celebration, which featured 12 men and women who beat breast cancer modeling in a fashion show that featured apparel from the Mitchells/Richards group. The survivors were people of all races, religions and backgrounds who each had their own unique battle with the disease.

The show made an added impact on plenty of local attendees when they recognized Lynn Carnegie, a Cos Cob resident who is known to many in town through her SAT preparatory work with students, strut her stuff down the runway, having been diagnosed with the disease in 1999.

Dr. Port, the surgeon who treated Ms. Battle and a member of the BCA Medical Advisory Board, echoed Ms. Battle’s sentiments about early breast cancer detection in her own speech and promoted the BCA’s work. The BCA focuses on funding three main avenues “that without question directly advance the fight against breast cancer,” Dr. Port said.

Firstly, the BCA funds research, which is critical because the most advanced “weapons” used to fight breast cancer today were mere research projects when they were first developed, Dr. Port said, adding that it’s the research of today that will provide even better treatments for tomorrow. Secondly, the BCA funds education, sharing data that clearly illustrates that in the present day, a breast cancer patient treated by someone who specializes in the disease is associated with an improved outcome, “no question about it,” Dr. Port said. Finally, the BCA funds mammograms — one of the most basic screening tests — which “clearly reduces the risk of a woman dying from breast cancer,” she said.

“It is simply indisputable that mammograms save lives. And yet a significant proportion of women who are eligible to receive mammograms for a variety of different factors don’t do that,” Dr. Port said, once again urging attendees to receive the annual exam.

Government funding is challenging and it is organizations like the BCA that provide the grants that are critical for breast cancer research, Dr. Port said. Only 5% of grant applicants that request funding through the government actually receive that funding. With that in mind, she said, it is important that everyone recognize the vital role private donors and philanthropists like the BCA play in funding future breast cancer research.

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