22 Aug 2014
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Kicking Cancer One Strut at a Time

Breast cancer survivors brave the runway to raise money for local charity.

The in Haddam radiated with energy of cosmic proportions Thursday evening as hundreds of the finest, strongest, most courageous and beautiful women in New England filled the house and looked magnificent doing it.

Each and every one of them beamed confidence and exuded a ferocious passion for life. They are, after all, breast cancer survivors, and this was their night for fun, fashionable -- and sexy -- fundraising.

A sold-out crowd came to watch the Art Bra Runway Show, put on by After the Storm Inc., a nonprofit organization founded by Christine Willett of Middlefield.

Willett, a breast cancer survivor herself, created the organization to help alleviate the cost of treatment for cancer survivors and create a network of support and healing.

Willett was diagnosed with Stage IIB breast cancer in 2009, at 30, while she was pregnant with her son, Chase.

“It’s doesn’t enter your realm because you don’t think it’ll happen to you,” said Willett, who underwent chemotherapy, radiation, clinical trials, reflexology and various medications once she gave birth to her son.

After helping raise funds for Life After the Storm, a documentary about a woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer, Willett says she was inspired to start After the Storm Inc. so she could help others cope and live through the ordeal.

The Art Bra Runway show is one of the organization's most popular fundraisers.

Last night more than 400 guests packed the Riverhouse to bid on the unique bras, designed by area residents and groups and modeled by volunteers brave enough to walk down the runway in their underwear.

One bra went for $725, and no bid was below $200. Each bra had a theme with a song to go with it.

“Knockers,” a reinforced bra with real door knockers on each cup, sold for $550; a Halloween-themed bra with pumpkins on each cup sold for $725; “Deer in Headlights,” a bra with real LED lights on each cup, complete with camouflage shorts and a fake shotgun as props, sold for $625; and a Superwoman-themed bra complete with a cape and a model flexing her toned arms above her head for the crowd, sold for $550.

It wasn’t just the ladies, though. Several men participated in the Man Show, strutting up and down the runway in bras, fanciful costumes, plenty of spandex and lycra, and even high-heels, make-up and wigs.

Willett’s brother even surprised the crowd on the balcony with a dramatic rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.” The theme for the guys was Madonna-inspired creations with everything from large, gold cone bras, bright pink bows and wedding dresses. “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl” blasted from the DJ’s speakers as each man rocked the runway, flexing and strutting for bidders.

Katie Robbin, modeling a beach-themed shell bra, walked for the second year in a row. She got involved at her sister’s request, and she says they do it for their mom.

“I know she’s watching and laughing hysterically,” beamed Robbin.

Jill Granucci, modeling the Anne Wales Red Door Boutique creation “Knockers,” is a good family friend of Willett’s, who asked if Granucci would want to participate.

“I said ‘yes,’ of course, it’s such a great cause,” said Granucci, who traveled from New Hampshire but grew up in Killingworth.

“Tonight is my favorite day of the year,” said Willett. “To see it happen, 400-plus people coming together for something I started, it’s overwhelming."

Willett said she got the idea for an Art Bra Runway show from fellow cancer survivor Melissa Burns. When Burns stopped organizing the show in 2008, Willett got her blessing to revive the show and continue raising money through it.

After the show, Willett announced the raffle prize winners. Bright pink bags with prizes were handed out to the winners who, of course, had to dance down the runway to retrieve their winnings.

Prizes included two passes to Mount Washington, a Vitality Signature Massage, a $50 gift certificate for dog grooming, a Kindle, a dental gift basket from Michele Salonia, D.M.D., of Middletown, a photography package, a dented bra carrier, as well as a crepe party hosted by in Durham. Willett made the winner “cross her heart” and promise to have a crepe party because the cafe’s offer has been passed up for the last two years.

At one point during the ceremony, Willett asked all of the cancer survivors to stand and be recognized. One woman standing was survivor Sherry Tetzlaff, who said she has three-and-a-half years left of a five-year treatment with Tamoxifen.

“I’m a lot freer,” said Tetzlaff of her life post-diagnosis. “You really don’t worry anymore.”

Women are encouraged to start getting mammograms in their 40s, but some women are diagnosed as young as 26. Early detection can occur through self-administered breast examinations. Illustrated directions on how to perform one appear sometimes on signs in women's restrooms.

For women who are just being diagnosed and looking for direction, Tetzlaff has her own advice.

“Do a lot of your own research with reliable resources. Watch out for test trial results that only have like 100 participants.” Tetzlaff also says that those who want to connect with a mentor can reach out to the American Cancer Society for help.

“You have to be your own advocate,” Tetzlaff stresses.

Last year the foundation donated $15,000 to the Center for Survivorship and Integrative Medicine at the Middlesex Cancer Center. This year’s beneficiary is The Center for Integrative Medicine in Oncology at the Middlesex Hospital Cancer Center.

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