Breast cancer survivors walk the runway to raise awareness

Above: Jennifer Sykes with her fiancé on the red carpet during Phoenix Fashion Week, which hosted a Fashionably Pink runway show to promote breast cancer awareness and raise money. (Provided photo) Business News | 24 Oct, 2017 |

Lights. Glitz. Fashion. Local celebrities and breast cancer survivors recently took to the runways of Phoenix Fashion Week for its annual Fashionably Pink show. 

Designers create pink garb for breast cancer survivors to wear to help raise money and awareness for breast cancer and nonprofits each year at Phoenix Fashion Week during the Fashionably Pink show.  

Breast Cancer survivors like Jennifer Sykes are able to walk the catwalk in an effort to assist organizations like the one that has helped her through the years. Sykes received support and care from Don’t be a Chump! Check for a Lump!, a Phoenix-based nonprofit, throughout her battle with breast cancer. Luxury jeweler Tal Barkel, the presenting sponsor of the event has ongoing fundraising efforts for Don’t Be a Chump!. Five percent of local sales made through Dec 25 will be donated to Don’t Be a Chump! Check for a Lump.

The Fashionably Pink show has greater goals than just raising awareness and money, the show is about celebrating life. 

“(Fashionably Pink) is so much more than that (raising money). It’s about celebrating that I’m still here and still fighting,” said Holly Rose, a breast cancer survivor herself, and the founder of Don’t be a Chump! Check for a Lump! 

Over the past seven years since its inception, Don’t be a Chump! Check for a Lump! has helped more than 1,000 women with wigs and other services. At the 2017 Fashionably Pink runway, Don’t be a Chump! raised over $15,000, which will be spent in providing women with wigs and mammograms. 

“Although we all have the same type of cancer; every single person’s journey is so different. And sometimes hearing other people’s journey gets us through the night. A survivor has to light up the darkness,” Sykes said. 

The Breast Cancer Journey 

“Are you driving?” the radiologist asked over the phone. It was that moment that Jennifer Sykes knew she was yet another breast cancer patient. 

Sykes was in her home office when the phone rang. The silence was filled with her radiologists’ voice and three small words that would send Sykes’ life into a persistent battle with cancer. 

It was 4:30 in the evening and Sykes had one more hour of work when the radiologist finished telling her the news. 

“It’s kind of surreal because life doesn’t stop,” Sykes said. “And so, I’m sitting there and I have just been told I had cancer and my phone is ringing for work.” 

But the terror didn’t stop after she received her diagnosis five years ago. At the time, she was a single mother of a 17-year-old boy and her next task was to go into her son’s room and tell him that his mother has a long battle ahead of her.  

“It’s a minute by minute thing and you don’t know what the next emotion is going to be. You don’t know if you are going to scream or cry or laugh, you just don’t know. You’re just in utter terror,” Sykes said. 

After leaving her office for the day, Sykes walked to her son’s room rigid with fear while trying to resist the threatening panic attack rising within her. 

This would be the worst and saddest day of her life, having to tell her son she has cancer. 

“When you have a child at home you can’t even focus on yourself, all you’re thinking is there’s a chance I’m not going to be around for this kid and what is he going to do without me,” Sykes said. 

It was during that time that Sykes came across Don’t be a Chump! Check for a Lump! A local charity designated to helping breast cancer patients through their journey. 

When she started to lose her hair from chemotherapy treatments, Sykes was determined to find a wig that would help her maintain her identity. 

But the hours spent in treatment left her tired and unable to fill out pages and pages of applications just to receive funding help for a wig. 

“When you’re not feeling well and you’re terrified of something, like losing your hair, the last thing you want to do is fill out a long application,” Sykes said. 

But there was help from Don’t Be a Chump! Sykes was able to fill out a few questions on its website in an effort to receive a wig. After Sykes finished the application, she received a phone call from Rose, and in a few minutes Sykes was set up with a wig shop to go find a wig up to $250 free of charge. 

Don’t be a Chump! Check for a Lump! also offered her the opportunity to take part in Fashionably Pink, one of the runway shows at Phoenix Fashion Week. 

But after Sykes’ first appearance on the runway, she would learn that her fight against cancer was not over, after being in remission for a few years. In August of 2016 she would be re-diagnosed. This time with a more advanced cancer. 

A year and a half prior she found the lump in her breast and over time the small lump would grow and become sore. She took matters into her own hands and requested an ultrasound. 

The radiologist would come in and tell her and her family that the results aren’t looking good. 

Sykes would turn to her fiancé and tell him she knew it was cancer. That she had known for a year and a half. But she wouldn’t cry this time. 

Her emotions didn’t fully hit her until a tear fell from her son’s eye as he made his way across the room to hug his mother.  

This time would be different. Sykes would lose her job and begin a turmoil of financial hardship.  

This year Sykes walked again in the Fashionably Pink runway show, “The first time I walked I felt like a complete survivor. I had been told I was cancer-free and then this time it is just a much different journey,” she said, “It’s a night to celebrate the fact that (cancer patients and survivors) are still here and it’s a way to share our journey.” 

Driven to help

Rose is a cancer survivor too. When she was 39, Rose came across a post on Facebook about breast cancer self-evaluation. Despite being one year short for a required mammogram, Rose decided to self-evaluate that night. She found a lump. 

For the next several months Rose’s life would be a spiral of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiology. 

Being fully overtaken by her treatment and losing her hair were huge fears of hers at first. However, the reality didn’t hit her until she was bald and her youngest daughter refused to hug her if she wasn’t wearing a wig. 

“She saw the face of cancer trying to steal her mom,” Rose said. 

Near the end of treatments, Rose was gifted with the idea of starting Don’t be a Chump! Check for a Lump! a nonprofit charity that aids breast cancer patients and survivors through their journeys. 

The group promotes prevention, detection and education. 

The organization also works to provide women like Sykes with wigs for free through its Wig Out program, supplying mammograms to women who may be unable to pay for their own and for offering any support the patient may need during their journey. 

“It was almost like God was saying okay, do something, go give back. So, I thought why don’t I do what all those people did for me,” Rose said. 

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