Fashion show benefits cancer patients

MARIETTA – When 67-year-old Nancy Markle strutted down the catwalk at the 11th annual Memorial Health Foundation’s “A Night on The Town” Fashion Show, it marked two years since doctors told her she had just a month to live.

After being diagnosed with melanoma once in 1988, with breast cancer decades later, and then again with stage four melanoma, Markle had gotten acquainted with Hospice care and put all her end-of-life affairs in order in spring 2012.

After requesting another test, doctors found that the melanoma had disappeared from most of her body.

Now in 2014, she walked proudly alongside 20 other cancer patients and survivors at the fashion show to benefit the Strecker Cancer Center and its Patient Emergency Fund on Thursday night in front of a packed house at Marietta College’s Fenton Court.

“When you see this group and hear their stories, there’s a sense of real camaraderie and friendship among them,” said Daneka Hedges, executive director of the foundation. “It makes it all worth it if someone is struggling with treatment or hair loss and they have support from the other ladies here.”

Thursday night, a show that saw all 550 tickets sold, featured fashions donned by 21 of Strecker Center in Marietta’s patients.

“This is the second year we’ve had cancer survivors as models,” Hedges said. “It was (previous coordinator) Cortney Beymer’s idea to bring them in and feature them.”

All proceeds, which Hedges thought might top last year’s $47,000, went toward the center and its emergency fund for patients, which is used to help patients with gas cards, prescriptions and other extra expenses.

“This is my first time doing it, and initially when they asked me, I said ‘no way,’ but it’s for a good cause, so I was in,” said Tanya Gherke, 42, of Parkersburg.

Gherke was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2013, and through the center and the show met Debbie Fitzgerald, 49, of Marietta, who was diagnosed with breast cancer just a month after her.

“You can tell by our hair we’re at the same time in our treatment,” Fitzgerald said. “But I have two more treatments and I’m done.”

Fitzgerald, who was also modeling for the first time, said the fashion show brought everything Strecker and Memorial Health does for its patients full circle.

“Dr. (Kelli) Cawley is the best,” Fitzgerald said. “She would call me all the time, just to see how I was doing, and you just don’t find doctors that do that.”

Many of the survivors brought a personal touch to their modeling to represent their personal stories, and Fitzgerald was no exception.

“Tonight I’m going to symbolize the end of my treatment by throwing my wig off the stage,” she said. “No more wigs for me.”

Markle had some words of advice for those in attendance, and held up signs with messages like “Danger! Stay away from tanning beds.”

“I’m not worried anymore, because it’s all in God’s hands,” Markle said. “But melanoma is something so many people take so lightly.”

Markle lost her daughter to breast cancer years ago, and said at the time she wished she could have taken her place.

“Now, because of that, I have got something I have to do,” Markle said. “I’m not just here to look pretty; it’s an honor, and I want to educate others.”