Waiting backstage Saturday at the Fort Hays Memorial Union for her turn on the runway, two-year survivor Beth Howell recalls the first time she modeled at the Day of Caring Fashion Show and Brunch that honors breast cancer survivors.
“The last time I modeled I had no eyebrows, and I didn’t even realize it,” said Howell.
Diagnosed at 29, she underwent chemotherapy and had a breast removed. “That person I was before, she took her hair and her body for granted — not in a bad way — until I had no hair, and until parts were being cut off. But I knew the cancer was not going to be the end. I have too much to live for.”
The annual fashion show and brunch are sponsored by the Cancer Council of Ellis County.
Alice Goetz, Park, is a 30-year survivor, but Saturday was only her seventh year as a model. She recalls her diagnosis. “The first thing I thought was ‘I’m gonna die.’ My mother died of breast cancer. She died in three months,” Goetz said. “But I had kids and grandkids, and I wanted to live.”
Taking a couple spins on the runway, Goetz’s family in the audience clapped and cheered, while Goetz fought back her tears.
“She’s not shy when she gets up there,” commented model and 13-year survivor Juno Ogle, Ellis. Ogle has no family history of cancer, but found a lump one day as she was getting dressed. “It was about a month before I went to the doctor. I was in denial,” she remembers, thinking at the time, at 36, that “young people don’t get cancer.”
Backstage, the models from Sisters of Survival expressed their gratitude for the support group. “There are just things you can’t tell your family and friends,” Ogle said. “You don’t want them to worry. There are things only the other survivors can understand.”
Brenda Meder, executive director of the Hays Arts Council, has narrated the fashion show for more than two decades, and spares the models no amount of teasing. Complimenting Ogle’s bright shock of pink hair and her long-time reporting career at The Hays Daily News, Meder laughed and added, “Juno’s smart, but buttons give her a problem, so it’s good the pants are pull-ons, and the shoes are TOM’s slip-ons.”
“The outfit is perfect for all seasons,” Meder softened. “And so is Juno.”
Debbie Klaus, 63, was diagnosed 13 years ago and had a double mastectomy. Klaus, from Hays, has modeled three times. On Saturday, Meder wanted to see a surly Madison Avenue pout from her, but Klaus smiled and laughed instead.
“C’mon Debbie, look like you’re mad,” Meder coaxed. “Look like someone paid you a lot of money to be here.”
The chair of the fashion show, Pat Schumacher, 65, is a 16-year survivor. She’s looking for someone to take her place as the chair next year. This year she had lots of help from Hays High School drama teacher Codi Fenwick.
Sitting at the banquet table Saturday morning, Schumacher mentioned her friend Mary Braden, the founder of Sisters of Survival, who wasn’t able to attend.
Braden once told her as they shared a hug, “I thought I could save people,” to which Schumacher says she replied, “Oh Mary, you did save us. You saved us from isolation.’”
Schumacher explained, “You can feel very alone unless you’re with women who are experiencing the same thing. To express our same fears, you can do that with other breast cancer survivors. And that’s how she saved us.”
When it’s 59-year-old Cindy Schroter’s turn, narrator Marjorie Flesher, Wichita, reads one of the 13-year survivor’s reflections from her cancer journey. She recalls a friend once told her that someone had commented “Have you seen that old bald guy that’s riding around on a scooter?” Her friend replied, “That’s no bald guy, That’s Cindy.” With a big smile Saturday, Schroter skipped down the runway.
Sarah Younger and Krisson Timken, both of Hays, attended the brunch to support their friend, Tiffany Stroede, 42, from Russell.
“She’s our girl,” said Younger, at the same time Timken said “We love our girl,” and both of them pointed at Stroede. A 7-year survivor, Stroede has a family history of cancer. Her’s started as cervical cancer. Through all the treatment, however, she said she’s been smiling and laughing.
“I’m a stubborn German Irish girl,” she said, adding that her friends and her better half, Jason Johnson, have been her rock.
Cheryl Duffy, 59, an English professor at Fort Hays State, is a three-year survivor.
“Sometimes it seems like eons ago,” she says of the day she got her diagnosis. “Sometimes it seems like yesterday. I have moved on, and my hair has grown back.”
There are the bad memories. “The panic,” she recalls. “You’re just sure you’ll be gone the next month.” And the good memories. “There’s all the great support. I had so many friends who stepped forward in so many ways.”
Howell also remembers the day she got her diagnosis. Her and her husband sat in the car so no one else could hear. About eight months pregnant, she felt anxiety for two. “This is two lives I was afraid for,” she said. Howell took two rounds of chemotherapy with her daughter in the womb, and 10 more after giving birth. “You ask yourself — do you wait and let your baby be born? We trusted that God would protect our child.”
Now 32 and the mother of two, Howell’s hair has grown back — and so has her husband’s, because he shaved his to support her. She took her spin on the runway in blue jeans with a fall color top, and more notably, in hot pink stilettos.
“As scary as it started, I was fortunate to be given the wisdom from some of these ladies here,” Howell said. “They told me ‘This is a new you. This is a new image you’re going to carry forward.’”
While Pat Schumacher will retire as chair, she told her fellow survivors “you haven’t heard the last of me girls.”
For her parting words, she shared an audition piece she used years ago, titled “My left breast.”
“One of these isn’t real. It’s not an arm. It’s not a leg. It’s not my heart. We all bear scars, but we are all beautiful. But most of all, we are still here,” she said. “Come on up girls! Strut your stuff and celebrate your survivorship.”
Editor's note: Juno Ogle has been an employee at The Hays Daily News since 1999.