Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to sit and chat with one of the most devoted and hard-working women I have ever met.
Sharon walked into our office with a cheetah-print jacket, the cutest blonde pixie cut and a smile that completely filled the entire room. She immediately captured our attention and our hearts as we listened to her amazing story.
You see, Sharon is just like 12% of the women in this country; she, too, has heard a doctor say the dreadful words, “breast cancer”. Every single year 12.7 million people are diagnosed with some form of cancer, and one day, Sharon’s name was added to that count. After watching her daughter-in-law fight her breast cancer diagnosis just a few years prior, Sharon wasn’t a stranger to the battle that would endure, but that didn’t make the chemotherapy and the six surgeries she faced any easier.
Sharon is a breast cancer survivor.
But her story doesn’t stop there.
She knew that she needed to do something… anything… to make the lives of other breast cancer patients a little bit easier and treatment a little more affordable. And “Art Bra” was born.
Sharon began working with Kansas University’s Cancer Center by raising money for them that would cover medical expenses for people who are underinsured and uninsured. It wasn’t long before she learned that a lot of that money wasn’t being used, even though it was greatly needed. Why? Because the people that needed that money, had no way of getting to KU’s hospital and many didn’t even know that there were options waiting for them there.
Sharon realized that the people who need these funds don’t need to be brought to the money, but the money needs to be brought to them. Many people who don’t have health insurance or are covered by Medicaid are guaranteed treatment for their cancer, but they aren’t promised reconstructive surgeries, and on top of that, there are many expenses that insurance will not cover, such as lymphedema sleeves. Sharon wanted to not only help with medical expenses, but help patients have the best recovery possible.
It was in this time that it became revealed to Sharon that Wyandotte County has one of the highest diagnosis rates and death rates for breast cancer in the entire country. So they began something called “Screening Parties”, where party buses pick up groups of women to bring them to be scanned for breast cancer, if anything is found, they aren’t just left to deal with their diagnosis on their own, Sharon ensures that they have the medical treatment needed.
Last year “Art Bra” rebranded to what it is now known as: Bra Couture Kansas City, or BCKC.
The story is amazing, but what exactly is BCKC? How have they raised the funds necessary to help the 6,000 people they have been able to help?
With an event that is unlike anything I have ever heard of or seen in my entire life.
With an event that captivates audiences, artists, fashionistas, and yet empowers breast cancer survivors and allows them to feel the beauty that they are but haven’t been able to feel in a long time.
With a fashion show.
Yes, a fashion show. Not just any fashion show. One that might seem a bit risqué but is incredibly classy and full of those tingles you get when you’re inspired and moved beyond words. This fashion show is unlike any you have ever seen.
Set up in Kansas City’s downtown airport, over 100 volunteers, vendors who donate their food and drinks, models, their families, and supporters of BCKC fill the hangar Bra Couture takes place in. Artists from around Kansas City design and create braziers (ok, bras.) into immaculate works of art. Each bra, with its own theme and a specific design, can be bid on in a silent auction that takes place before the actual fashion show. The designed bras are set up in gallery-type setting called the Art Walk and will be given a special effect next year by featuring artists in their own space, giving guests the opportunity to purchase even more art work that will benefit BCKC.
The actual Fashion Show features 16-20 women. But these aren’t your typical women.
These women are warriors.
They are champions.
They are overcomers.
They are survivors.
Breast cancer survivors.
The runway is filled with women modeling amazing works of art, but even more importantly, they are clothed in confidence and beauty, but not the beauty that comes from specially designed hair and perfectly applied makeup (although they do have both of those, too). This beauty is found from deep within, it is something they feel so powerfully because they haven’t felt it since they lost their hair, one or both of their breasts, and potentially their lives. The models wait while their story is being shared in a brief three-minute time frame, and then they emerge and walk down the runway and in the spotlight while the room erupts in applause and families and friends cheer for the person they once thought they were going to lose.
This moment is Sharon’s favorite moment of the entire evening. She loves watching many volunteers come together for this amazing cause, and she loves witnessing this amazing event unfold before her very eyes. But she loves getting to watch these women feel empowered and beautiful.
The youngest survivor model that has walked that runway was only 22.
As we talked with Sharon, she looked at both Ashley and I and emphasized the importance of self-breast exams and mammograms. Over 40% of women in the US who have health insurance, still don’t get screened, and honestly, I’m one of them. I think I’m like a lot of millennials, I just assume that I’m healthy and I feel great, so it certainly wouldn’t happen to me. Later in the month, we’ll be discussing even further the importance of self-breast exams, what to look for, and where to go if you feel you find something of concern.
Watching the passion in Sharon’s eyes as she shared her story and the history of BCKC, was exhilarating, touching, and contagious. I found my eyes welling with tears several times and the passion clearly caught onto Brian because he pledged to volunteer for Bra Couture and declared with pride that this partnership would last well past the month of October. The rest of the Ziyak team couldn't agree more.
Like all inspiring people, Sharon caught her flame, and keeps it lit by the people who inspire her the most. They are three of Bra Couture’s models who have overcome breast cancer again and again, only to have it return. They are survivors, but they are still fighters. All three of them are mamas with active lives and yet, they keep up with their families, careers, and other commitments while going off to treatment or endure yet another surgery. They amaze Sharon daily.
Sharon created Bra Couture six years ago and, as I mentioned earlier, BCKC has been able to assist more than 6,000 men, women and children who are fighting cancer in the Kansas City area. So often we hear that we endure the trials we do for a reason. From where I’m standing, I can almost guarantee you that Sharon heard that “breast cancer” word years ago because there were 6,000 people in Kansas City who needed her help, compassion, and spirit. She took her trial and her horrible diagnosis and turned into over 6,000 blessings. And we are excited to help spread the hope that Bra Couture brings to so many people.
All photos are courtesy of BraCoutureKC.com
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Kendra is an Executive Assistant at Ziyak. She loves to share her humor and share her passions with anyone who will take the time to read what she writes.