Well, the fashion show! What to say?
Firstly that I chose to wear not only Mary’s hair thing and Peruvian beads from my friend Nellen, but topped the look off with a fabulous new hat from Annie who sent it with the blessings of the Camden Market hat lady. Took a cab with six friends, two of them fellow breast cancer peeps.
There were at least five hundred people there. Looking at the information on my seat I learnt that funds raised will improve access to clinical trials as well as supporting the Fabulous and Beautiful charity set up by Ashraf Patel at St Margaret’s Hospital, Epping, in November 2009.
There was not a pout in the place. Nor a sultry walk. The fifteen models danced onto the catwalk in dresses by Mariposa Formal Wear. They were radiant, exuding bounce and delight. You could just tell that they had all got past that place where you care about what people think of you. They couldn’t give a damn about the small stuff. They had each chosen a favourite song to come in on. All of them have been through mastectomies, lumpectomies, chemo or radio. I absolutely loved it and clapped till my hands fell off. Smiled and laughed till my cheeks ached. And found that along with most of the audience I was crying my eyes out. Our friend Gill was beautiful in purple:
Then the men came out, modelling wondrous gladrags. I’m not sure anyone was expecting that. They too were laughing and dancing, confidently twirling the ladies. Some had done fundraising walks in Peru and China and are preparing for an Everest Base Camp expedition and a coast to coast Cuba trek. A young lad modelling a nifty suit did a back flip. The commentator joked about him being fresh from Paris and Milan.
The ball of energy behind the whole thing, Ashraf Patel, dressed in long sharply cut pale golden tails, rocked up the catwalk. There was huge applause for this incredible surgeon and fundraiser. Apparently he dedicates his whole life to the cause.
All the models then came out together. The two at the front waltzed to the end of the catwalk, looked at each other, grabbed their wigs and chucked them into the crowd, fuelling the the increasingly raucous atmosphere.
The FAB team have created a book out of the event called Life is FAB and were launching it there and then. Print and broadcast journalist Wendy Pike, ‘finding tales from real life more fascinating than fiction’ did the writing for it, helping the volunteers and models to share their ideas. The FAB lead stylist Anita Gray explains her involvement: after visiting a friend who had had surgery for breast cancer ‘It struck me that chemo-induced hair loss and breast surgery must add up to one of the lowest points for any woman’s self-image. Being a stylist and colour consultant I felt that I had a lot to offer ladies facing the same situation.’ The monthly meetings include Reiki, Reflexology and free professional beauty treatments. Her description of the way it works reminds me that again, so much revolves around the need for informal communication: ‘Often queries come up that ladies haven’t felt able to ask during medical appointments. We can ask the experts and pass on the information informally in relaxed surroundings.’
(Maybe I could ask them to explain homeopathy to Ferdinandos for me. Although my friend Pete has rightly pointed out that in Ferdinandos’ eyes, the remedy is diluted to a point past where he would consider it to contain active ingredients, so the next time he asks ‘but what’s intilt’, I can legitimately say ‘water’.)
The way the meetings work can be seen too in Ashraf’s long quote from a patient’s daughter in his foreword. Loving the way he trusts this girl to say it all better than he could. The girl says ‘I went along to a meeting with my Mum who has breast cancer and within minutes of being there, the women were roaring with laughter at every opportunity.’ This is it, you see. Roaring with laughter is key: it facilitates exchange of information, because laughter is infectious and relaxes people. ‘These women are not feeling sorry for themselves,’ the girl notes, as they have ‘an inspirational determination not to let cancer get in the way of glamour and living.’
I would probably have put ‘living’ ahead of ‘glamour’ there, but you get the gist!
Each model has their photo in the book, with their comments on what they have learnt, how they got through it. I love what Carmel, the photographer, has to say. Despite choosing not to have reconstruction, it is her beautifully gowned breast gracing the front of the book. ‘I am fascinated and appalled with women’s obsession with reconstruction. It’s not something I’d ever do. It’s indicative of a society that is so obsessed with breasts. The only people who will see me one-breasted are medical staff or people who love me. I don’t want to give one minute of my life to a hospital for something which is just a society pressure.’
Bloody good points there, Carmel. I am thinking on it. (And btw thanks for saying I can use the photos.)
Later one of the models, Sam, came up to me. ‘I’ve been feeling so drawn to you all night!’ she exclaimed. ‘Just had to come up and say hello. Loving your hair/hat combo.’
She’s been through breast cancer and is out the other side. She so much wanted to know about what was happening to me that I mentioned the blog. I wrote down on a scrap of paper ‘Hester Tingey The Breast Blog in the World.’
This led to one big wowzer moment. ‘OMG I don’t believe this’ she cried, once she had managed to focus on the name, being more than a bit tipsy. (Give us a break, who wasn’t by this time what with the free champers?) ‘You are Hester?! Incredible. I’ve been trying to write you a card all week! My son Brandon is best friends with your Alfie! Love Alfie! What an absolute charmer! Do you know, he was the first lad from Hockerill to come round our house after we moved in.’
I am always chuffed when people spot the charmer in Alfie as he doesn’t tend to flaunt it much at home. Two friends had mentioned Brandon’s mum to me and the fact we should get together but it just had not happened. Got so excited we did, I nearly missed the cab ride home. This is Sam’s picture from the book: lovely to meet you, Sam!
(BTW in case anyone wants a copy, the address given on the back of the book is Fabulous and Beautiful, Breast Clinical Trials Office, Birchwood House, St Margaret’s Hospital, Epping CM16 6TN.)