CLEARWATER — Florida Cancer Foundation of Pinellas will host the Casual Chic Boutique, its largest annual fundraiser, at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Suncoast Hospice.
The event will feature 16 cancer survivors as they model fashion while sending the message that life can go on and still be beautiful.
Much of the success of the event can be credited to doctors, nurses and volunteers.
Millie Diaz, a nurse at Tampa Bay Oncology Center, started the event 23 years ago with Suncoast Hospital and the American Cancer Society.
"The purpose is to let newly diagnosed cancer patients in the audience see that cancer's not necessarily a death sentence," she said. "It's very inspiring."
At first, many of the women are reluctant to participate, but after the first experience, they tend to come back, said Diaz.
Rick Shonter, a cancer survivor and one of the founders of FCFP agrees.
"It's a remarkable experience to hear the survivor's story and how it has affected their life and family," said Shonter. "There's usually not a dry eye in the house," she said, referring to past events.
Adrian Anderson, 37, was diagnosed in April. An annual Pap smear did not detect the cancer. By the time it was found, she was already in stage three, which required a radical hysterectomy in May.
Anderson wasn't aware that she could receive assistance for nonmedical needs through the foundation, but learned about the service from her physician, Dr. Jeffrey Paonessa, another founder of FCFP.
The foundation covered her rent, car insurance, electric bill and her children's day care cost for two months.
Anderson, who will be modeling for the first time, quipped, "I thought I'd be selling tickets or something. I'm happy to do it though. It seems like fun and I have tons for friends who are going to be there to support the cause."
Cheryl Clinton, 35, in her second year as a model for the event, was diagnosed at age 31 with breast cancer, just before getting married. She was warned that she might not have hair on her wedding day. On the first night of her honeymoon in St. Lucia she lost some hair. "But it was okay, we were happy."
Clinton volunteers with FCFP and leads the support group, Sistahs Surviving Breast Cancer.
Rochelle Heenan, 70, a 13-year survivor who had bilateral mastectomy, will be participating in her fourth show. "I'm a proud survivor. I'm still all woman. My breasts didn't make me a woman and you don't have to have breasts to look pretty."
Bonita Likely, 40, was misdiagnosed for several years by her doctor in Ohio. She got laid off, moved to Florida and was diagnosed with breast cancer in July.
Unemployed, uninsured and scared, she was turned down for assistance by several agencies.
"I'm overwhelmed with the generosity I received from the foundation. I'm single and have no children, so there's no help for me," said Likely, who will be modeling for the first time.