Fashion shows off passion

Published 9:59 pm Saturday, October 15, 2011

Women strutted up and down a “runway” in a gallery at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts on Friday night, modeling a variety of fashions from a local clothing shop.

It was mostly an ordinary fundraising fashion show in Suffolk, with the clothes provided by Denison’s and the audience clapping and cheering. But there were a few exceptions to the norm.

Dr. Brian King of Lakeview Medical Clinic created this entry for the Steppin’ Up Shoe Art Contest at the Pink Passion Fashion Show on Friday night. The 156 pink ribbons represent the 156 breast cancer patients King has treated since he came to Suffolk in 2008. The bowties on the two ribbons on the straps represent the two male patients.

One of the models had been in the middle of a chemotherapy treatment less than four hours before the show started. Another had reconstructive surgery four weeks ago after a double mastectomy. And yet another was wearing a wig on her completely bald head.

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“It was empowering because of the cause,” said Connie Chapman, who discovered a five-centimeter tumor in her breast last year during a self-exam.

Chapman is a member of the Pink Passion Breast Cancer Support Group, which co-hosted Friday’s event with the Louise Obici Hospital Auxiliary. In addition to the fashion show, the event included the Steppin’ Up Shoe Art Contest, which encouraged people to decorate a pair of women’s shoes. The proceeds for ticket sales and the silent auction went to the support group.

Dozens of entries were received for the contest. Most had breast cancer awareness as a theme, but others were based on flower gardens, Halloween, television shows or movies.

Dr. Brian King, a general surgeon with Lakeview Medical Center, submitted a shoe entry with 156 pink ribbons — one for each of the breast cancer patients he’s treated since he arrived in Suffolk in 2008. Two of the ribbons carried tiny bowties to signify male patients.

“There’s a lot of support in this area, and this evening is a testament to that,” he said. “It helps me to have confidence telling them, ‘You’re going to get through this.’”

King was recognized at the event with a pink-and-white quilt for his efforts treating area patients, who included many of the models and other survivors in attendance.

Lou Ann Sallaz, who lives in Smithfield, was diagnosed on May 25 and has since had a double mastectomy. Because she was laid off last year, she initially found help at the Western Tidewater Free Clinic, who saw her the day after she called and helped her get on Medicaid within two weeks.

“Because of them, I will be a survivor,” Sallaz said.

Sallaz has two more chemotherapy treatments left. The last will be on her birthday, Nov. 25.

“I have found some silver linings in all of this,” she said. Her treatments have inspired her to get the continuing education necessary to re-active her registered nurse license and work in oncology.

“That’s what I’m doing while I’m recuperating,” she said, adding that Pat Thornton, the breast cancer patient navigator at Sentara Obici, had been with her “every step of the way.”

Dr. Victor Archie, a radiation oncologist at Obici, said the event helped show off the support system that is available in Suffolk for cancer patients.

“Support is critical for people to make it through,” he said. “It’s so much easier for them.”

Connie Chapman, who was treated by King and Archie, said she felt like she had a “dream team” to help her recover.

“I’ve been very blessed,” she said. “I’ve met so many wonderful people.”

But, she stressed, she never would have made it through had she not been doing monthly self-exams. She found her tumor last fall, but her next mammogram was not scheduled until February. She’d already had four chemotherapy treatments by then.

“If one woman who never did a breast exam starts doing it because of this, it was worth it,” she said.

The awards for the shoe art contest were:

Most Beautiful — Melissa Bassey, “Shining Star”

Most Inspirational — Dr. Stafford Brown Family, “Pink Carpet”

Most Creative — Kaitlyn Barrett, “Beauty and the Beast”

Honorable Mentions — “Oncology Nurses,” “On Track for a Cure,” “Peace, Love, Cure”