It feels different today.
It’s been 9 years, this month, that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This month, February, has taken on a whole new purpose for me these last 3 years. Each year since 2010, it has been cancer reminder, think again about cancer, cancerversary, birthday. But in 2016, when Champagne Joy asked me if I would be interested in doing an AnaOno fashion show at New York Fashion Week with her and #Cancerland, things began to change.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIE HOLDER PHOTOGRAPHER, MARSHA LEBEDEV BERNSTEIN
No longer did January signify the weeks leading up to my diagnosis, the testing, the doctor appointments, the reminder of the fear. It now became vigorously sewing, organizing, and making a major event the focus. Call it a distraction? Call it deflecting? I call it the best distraction in the world.
Now each February brings a new memory, some not as great as others, but the last three years, some of the most important. Champagne and I started this #Cancerland New York Fashion Week show, without really knowing “what” we were doing, and the actual impact our show would eventually make on the community I am so proud to be a part of. We know that we needed to change the conversation. We knew that this was a platform to do it. And we knew, like everything Champagne did, it would be fun, it would be festive, and it would be something no one would ever forget. That was 2017, a show that showed the world what breast cancer looked like.
Our first show, we named #Exposed, we had 16 patient models, in AnaOno lingerie, bare their cancer battle wounds, and show the world what breast cancer “actually” looked like. No more pink ribbons, no more cheerleaders. Just reality, just our lives. We couldn’t believe it when the New York Times posted the story online, and we soon received millions of views from people around the world in hours. We expressed ourselves, our bodies, our stories, and so many listened.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIE HOLDER PHOTOGRAPHER, MARIA ANSLEY
The second show, we barely had a second to even talk about it. We barely got through the show, got some rest, and started back at it. Then, devastatingly, Champagne Joy lost her life to breast cancer. To be there with her in that moment, and to experience that with two of my dearest friends, was heartbreaking. We were then bonded together forever to make sure her legacy lived on. And in 2018, I had to do the hardest show ever, alone, without my partner. We named it #TheDangerousOnes, because we were going to show the world more of the truth about breast cancer. We were not going to shy away from the harsh reality that men & women die at alarming rates from advanced Stage IV breast cancer. In 2019, we had 30 models in this show, many that returned from 2017, except for Shin Ae who also passed after the previous year’s show. This year, 1/3 of the models are facing Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. It would represent the 1 in 3 that metastasize after a breast cancer diagnosis. It was homage to our late founder of #Cancerland, it was our good-bye, as a collective, to Champagne.
The show was incredibly hard for so many of us, but in that moment, I realized how incredibly difficult it was to lose my partner in fashion crime, my friend, my activist coach & teacher. Honestly, I didn’t know if I had it in me to do it again. Every year, I make it another year. I remember all the friends I have had to say goodbye too. I worried I couldn’t do it again. That not having Champagne by my side make it all different, and it just didn’t feel right.
But then, I thought about it all; how we have an opportunity unlike so many other opportunities to open the door, and keep advocating. To keep building awareness about the truth of breast cancer, and because I was tired, and stressed out, and sad; it wasn’t enough to give up.
I said to the board of #Cancerland, if we are going to do this again, we will do it with all metastatic patients. The world needs to hear us. They need to listen. We cannot continue to tread lightly and ask for change. We have to do this so they can see that we have to try harder to keep these patients alive, that we have to give more, we have to do more, we have to be bigger and stronger and more aggressive than the rest if we are going to be able to help make a difference.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIE HOLDER PHOTOGRAPHER, MARIA ANSLEY, MARSHA LEBEDEV BERNSTEIN
That brings us to #NotJustOne; our theme for the 2019 show, our third year. It is not one, it is more than one. It is us. It is you. It is everybody, and that is the army we must build in order to continue our advocacy forward and give us all a better opportunity to outlive our cancer diagnosis. Because someone diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer has a median life span of 36 months, and we must do more.
Maybe fashion feels like a strange way to do this, but I believe there is a vulnerability in not only getting on a runway in New York City, when you are not a professional model, but doing it in your underwear! I knew when I launched AnaOno that I would never use a professional model (unless she too was affected by breast cancer), but that the bodies that are affected are important, and they are important for the world to see; so, each of us never has to feel alone. What I didn’t realize is that so many of our models would develop metastatic disease and/or already have it when I would meet them. And this, my friends, is for you. This is so we never stand alone again. It’s so that we do not divide, but we hold each other tight, and drive our force forward to help make change, so we can stop having to say goodbye.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIE HOLDER PHOTOGRAPHER, MARIA ANSLEY
Today is a new day. Today we became more than one. Today we will not allow another patient to face their metastatic cancer alone. Today we support each other, and today I get to notch one more year with one of the most amazing days of my life.
In loving memory of Jill, Miena, Champagne, and Shin Ae, our AnaOno models that were not hear with us today to be a part of the change, but are a big piece of the change.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARIA ANSLEY
THANK YOU TO ALL THAT MADE THIS YEAR THE BEST YEAR YET!
To our metastatic models: You are strong, powerful, fierce, beautiful, hardcore and INCREDIBLE. Thank you for showing the world what MBC looks like, and letting the whole community know that they are #NOTJUSTONE. We salute each and every one of you. ⠀
Thanks to our show sponsors! Eisai, Natrelle, Pfizer, Immunomedics
Thanks to all artists who helped make our models look so incredible!Wigs by Barbara, Manic Panic, EmpowerHaus, Ramona Robinson, Melanie Testa, Alika Feldman, Misha Japanwala, Marianne DuquetteCuozzo, Jonathan Pantaleon Melanie Lynn Penn, Lauren Rinaldi, Michele Tremblay, Lolita Frazier , Style Esteem, Style the Runway, Alexa Miller, Amy Michleb