Pink lemonade and positive messages flowed freely Thursday at the 2nd annual Pink Chair Lunch and Fashion Show at Mitchells of Westport.
An audience of about 500 people, mostly female, saw inspiring women walk the runway on the Mitchells' sales floor in a fashion show that features as its models local women who are breast cancer survivors. They also heard inspiring words from other survivors of cancer, including Hoda Kotb, co-host of the Emmy Award-winning fourth hour of NBC's program, "Today." Kotb is also the author of the book "How I Survived War Zones, Bad Hair, Cancer and Kathie Lee (Gifford)," her co-host on "Today."
"I feel like I have two lives, one before breast cancer and one after," Kotb told the audience, many of whom were dressed in pink.
Kotb talked about the day in March 2007 when she was diagnosed. "Not good news for you," she remembers her doctor saying in a phone call. "I heard him say cancer and some other words," Kotb said.
She credits her breast cancer diagnosis with the job she has now. Before cancer, she would not have had the courage to ask for promotions, but post-cancer she said she learned "my life has margins ... I stopped wasting time." Kotb said four words have dominated her life since her diagnosis: "You can't scare me ... Those four words are so powerful," she said.
Also powerful is the act of those with breast cancer sharing with others their experiences, according to Kotb and others at the event, which raises money for Pink Aid, an all-volunteer foundation that provides grants to non-profit organizations providing support services to uninsured and under-insured women in Fairfield County who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Event co-chairwomen Trish Paliotta and Deb Placey said the experiences one has are meant to help the others yet to be diagnosed with "this unfortunate disease." Paliotta said she used to hide underneath the anonymity her wigs after she lost her hair to chemotherapy. On Thursday, her own hair brushed her shoulders as she walked the runway flanked by Placey and Amy Katz, one of the four founders of the Pink Aid foundation.
One of the fashion show models, Patricia Zins of Westport, who wore a J Mendel red dress, offered inspiring words of her own. "When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life you have a thousand reasons to smile."
"Life is to be lived. You should look forward, not backward," said Grace Schlein of Fort Lee, N.J., who walked the runway with Zins, her daughter.
"Our experience is in vain if we can't help someone else," said Hyleri Katzenberg of Westport, a cancer survivor, who said she couldn't wait to get home to share all the inspiring messages with her mother, who is battling the disease. "This is the lemonade, the Pink Lemon Aid, that comes from the lemons that life has thrown at people," Katzenberg said.
Through the retail floor of Mitchells were 32 one-of-a-kind pink chairs, designed and created by professional architects and home decor experts, including Cherie Greene Interiors, Wakefield Design Center, Matthew Tucker Interiors with the Bright Group, Cornerstone Design Group, Lillian August and Montage Modern Vintage. The chairs were auctioned to raise funding for Pink Aid.
Organizers were tickled pink with the turnout and the bottom line.
Andrew Mitchell-Namdar, founder of the Pink Aid foundation and vice president of marketing and creative services for the Mitchells Family of Stores, said pre-event sponsorships and ticket sales for the sold-out lunch and fashion show brought in $400,000, more funding than the entire event raised last year. The inaugural event raised $250,000.
Mitchell-Namdar said the foundation has received 15 grant applications so far. Funding will be distributed beginning in January and will go to large and small organizations and individuals who dispense compassionate services to lessen the burden of those confronting breast cancer.
Services funded by Pink Aid include free mammograms and wigs, transportation to and from treatments, babysitting and housekeeping services, and wellness programs in nutrition and yoga.
For more information about Pink Aid and its services, or to make a donation, visit www.pinkaid.org