Everyone around the table had their own difficult story to share.
One woman was a 14-year survivor of breast cancer. Another shared that she lost her sister to breast cancer. Others had lost family members to other kinds of cancer.
Despite the challenges being shared though, the mood in the room remained joyous. Everyone cheered when a woman shared that she’s been cancer free for almost three decades. Another introduced herself as a “breast cancer survivor and fighter.”
“I am now in my fourth diagnosis since 2002 when I was first diagnosed, and then I went into remission for several years and then have been re-diagnosed three times in the same breast in my ribs and on my spleen,” says Pamela Rotunda, who lives in Brunswick. “So I’m currently once again under treatment.”
Rotunda will be among the models featured in the 22nd Annual Breast Cancer Fashion Show & Luncheon, which will take place Feb. 5 at Sea Palms Resort on St. Simons.
She shared her story during a meet-and-greet for the models in this year’s show. The event was postponed from its traditional October 2021 date because of a local surge in COVID-19 cases. But its important purpose hasn’t changed, says Joy Cook, chair of the event.
“We just couldn’t take a chance, so we decided every month should be Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” Cook says.
Models in the show are breast cancer survivors or are currently going through their own battle with the disease.
Judy Sutton will model for the first time this year. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017 has has been in the clear for five years.
Sutton sees the fashion show as an opportunity to increase support for women battling breast cancers and for survivors.
“Anything that I can do to help raise money to support breast cancer awareness, I’ll do,” she says.
Ruby Jackson will also be modeling in the show for the first time. She was diagnosed last summer with aggressive breast cancer that doctors said was between stage two and three.
“They had to treat me aggressively because the cancer was going fast,” Jackson says.
She has since undergone weekly chemotherapy treatments. Treatments leave her feeling exhausted, and she says she often returns from appointments and has to lie down to get a couple hours of sleep right after.
Jackson, 64, has lived on St. Simons her entire life and has driven a school bus for Glynn County Schools for 35 years. She’s also worked with the Relay for Life team for many years and has long been a fan of the fashion show, often attending as an audience member. She says it’s a privilege to be a model this year.
“I don’t care if people know I’ve got cancer,” she says. “I’m going to do it. There’s nothing to be ashamed about, for anybody to get cancer. It’s just a hurdle I’ve got to go through. God puts things there, and you’ve got to rise to the occasion. I have faith that I’m going to beat this, baby. I’m going to beat this.”
Breast exams are important, she says, and she delayed hers because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We should take care of ourselves, because if we don’t take care of ourselves no one else will,” Jackson says.
Tickets for the fashion show cost $50 and go on sale Jan. 7. All proceeds raised will support the American Cancer Society.
This year’s event is presented by Dr. Vincent Arlauskas, Dr. Stephen Barrett, and Dr. Bradley Easterlin.
Other sponsors this year include Ameris Bank, Dr. and Mrs. A.W. Strickland, Mark and Emelia Stambaugh, Coastal Community Health Service, BHHS Hodnett Cooper Real Estate, Green Key Hyperformance Driving Team, Southeast Georgia Health System, and Wommack Dentistry.
This year’s event will include a live and silent auction, as well as the sale of the “pink box,” a mystery give away.
“People buy the box, and they don’t know what they’re buying,” Cook says. “They pay $20, and we guarantee it’s at least a $25 if not more.”
Cook has chaired the fashion show for more than 10 years and she also volunteers at the hospital’s cancer center.
“I would like to see an end to cancer in my lifetime,” she says.
The fashion show’s planning committee has 13 members, eight of whom are breast cancer survivor and former models in the show.
“That tells you a lot about this committee and how much they care,” Cook says.
And the fashion show, for Cook, is all about supporting the women who serve as models.
“I’ll be honest with you. I do it for the models,” she says. “And we of course hope to make lots of money so research can continue, but seeing how it affects the models is everything. I think that’s why the community supports us, because everybody knows somebody that’s had breast cancer.”
Tickets can be purchased at Cunningham Jewelers, Gentlemen’s and Lady Outfitters and Saint Simons Drug Company. Online purchases can be made at relayforlife.org/glynncounty.