This Cancer Thriver Walked The Runway At NYFW, Going From Model To Role Model
The purpose of fashion is to show the beauty of the human spirit — through clothes, body, confidence, and expression. And this year was no different! But one show made quite the mark.
#Cancerland, a media platform focusing on changing the conversation about breast cancer, recruited nearly 30 women — all of whom were cancer survivors and thrivers, and most with zero to little experience on a runway — to walk during New York Fashion Week. And believe us when we say it was nothing short of inspirational!
Last year’s #Cancerland show at Fashion Week showcased 16 models, and was such a trailblazing performance that it inspired one cancer survivor to take part.
Molly Kochan O was so moved by the show that she called Dana Donofree, breast cancer survivor and founder of the brand AnaOno, to see how she can take part. Dana ended up connecting her to Champagne Joy, founder of #Cancerland. As destiny would have it, Molly ended up walking this year at New York Fashion Week, and it was a total game-changer for someone who kept her cancer journey extremely private for nearly seven years.
“Only a handful of friends and family knew what I was going through,” Molly shares. “I never wanted to be associated with the words ‘patient’ or ‘cancer.’ I chose to come out last week, just ahead of the fashion show, on Facebook, and share my journey a bit because I was able to do it in what felt like an empowering way. Because I have been so private for so long, there was some trepidation about going from my inner friend circles to a giant runway. It was a huge jump in vulnerability. Exposing all, literally (as I wore lingerie) and figuratively.”
Pictured: Molly gets ready, wearing a bra designed by Oregon-based radiation oncologist, Dr. Katie Deming, whose label is called Makemerry. Deming wanted to design a bra that was cute and comfortable for women who have undergone radiation, but it’s also comfy for everyone!
Molly adds, “Events like this fashion show are a great triumph for me. It’s a way of taking a big bite out of life and saying that although cancer has taken away so much, it can never take away my beauty or the true essence of who I am.”
It’s estimated that over 40,000 women die every year due to breast cancer (about 108 per day) and virtually all of them are stage 4. As Refinery29 reports, because of the many years of progress in treating early stage breast cancer (nowadays, 93% of women diagnosed with with stage 2 breast cancer are expected to live at least five years), most people don’t realize that an estimated 30% of all women diagnosed with breast cancer will go on to develop an advanced, incurable disease.
Right now, Molly is writing a memoir, and working on a fictionalized version of her story for a TV show that “very much revolves around sex as the antidote to death in the face of terminal illness and finding those things that make you feel truly alive when you are faced with your mortality on a daily basis.”
“I got diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and went through the whole buffet of treatments – chemo, surgery and radiation,” Molly explains. “The cancer came back in 2015 and it was breast cancer that had spread to my liver, brain and bones. It is currently not detectable in the brain or liver, thanks to treatment. So I have ‘bone only disease.’ Metastatic breast cancer is currently incurable, so it is likely I will always be on some form of treatment. Right now, it is being treated like a chronic disease until it turns terminal.”
#Cancerland advocates for research into therapies that will extend the lives of terminally ill cancer patients, and eventually turn Stage IV disease into a chronic condition, not a death sentence. Learn more about how you can donate HERE.
“There were moments of being nervous, but not for why you would think,” Molly says of the show. “I was actually surprised that, even though there were 30+ women who have navigated some terrible hurdles of breast cancer, it still feels like such an individual journey. Despite all of us being in one room or working on one project together, there were moments of loneliness and isolation with it. The women were all strong and wonderful, but it showed me just how individual this path can be.”
Watching over 30 cancer survivors walk the runway, advocating for broader discussions and more research surrounding cancer is a life-changing experience — for the audience and the models themselves.
“I hope that audiences got some education about metastatic breast cancer, the currently incurable nature of it, and the lack of funding that goes into researching advanced cancer,” Molly says. “I also hope that people walked away feeling inspired by the strength and the fun behind the show. Here we all were, in different stages of this disease, throwing caution to the wind and saying, here we are, beautiful in our own skin, strutting our stuff. Nothing can bring us down today!”
She adds, “Traveling far outside of my comfort zone is both scary and rewarding. You always hear people say you get the strength or guts to do something after the fact. I think in some ways that’s true.”
For more information, visit ProjectCancerland.org.