The organizers of Fashion Funds the Cure know these sad truths: Each year, some of the young cancer patients who signed up to model in the charity fashion show might become too sick to participate, and some of them won't survive to return for the next year's show.
"It just breaks your heart," said Shelly Mizrahi, director of marketing and communications for Tampa's Pediatric Cancer Foundation, which raises money for pediatric cancer research.
Tuesday night was no different. Two girls who were supposed to work the runway for the foundation's sixth annual event weren't well enough to attend.
But the courage of young cancer patients beamed through the swagger and smiles of 10 girls currently battling the disease and two dozen more who have beat it. With celebrity escorts by their side on the catwalk, the fighters helped raise more than $300,000 for research from the 600-strong crowd gathered at the Saks Fifth Avenue at WestShore Plaza.
TV host Carson Kressley, of How to Look Good Naked and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy fame, cheered the girls on as the night's emcee.
"Go, Kayla! Go, Kayla!" he chanted, as Kayla Witter modeled her black leggings and floral top to the applause of the crowd.
Before the show, the Dunedin 8-year-old had carefully applied shiny gloss to her already pink-stained lips. Her brown hair, grown out into a pixie cut, sparkled with glitter.
On the runway, she walked with a slight limp, then turned to blow the audience a kiss.
Backstage, Buccaneers players chatted about workouts and little girls bounced with their Prada handbags. Amid the commotion, one young alumna of the show quietly remembered a girl she met through the event a few years back. Remi Storch, a fifth-grader from Westchase, wore a pink bedazzled T-shirt that symbolized her survival. She's been in remission for 2 1/2 years. But pinned to her top was a heart-shaped photo of herself with her friend Camille, who died of cancer about a year ago.
"She fought a long, hard journey," said Remi, 10.
She did not want her friend to be forgotten.
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3337.