Ribbons rock the runway: You Night inspires women diagnosed with cancer

Published 2:32 am Saturday, July 23, 2022

NEW ORLEANS — Jerry Parker of LaPlace, a 10-year breast cancer survivor, has been selected as an ambassador for Ribbons Rock the Runway, an annual fundraising event hosted by You Night.

Scheduled for Saturday, October 1 at The Sugar Mill in New Orleans, Ribbons Rock the Runway sheds light on 18 different types of women’s cancers. The event supports early detection, prevention, resources and, most importantly, provides hope to those who have been diagnosed.

All proceeds benefit the We Lift You Up Fund, a 501c3 charity that helps women embrace the changes in their lives after receiving a cancer diagnosis.

This year, You Night is attempting to break a Guinness world record for the most models in a runway show. Interactive photo stations, dazzling outfits and a 500-foot runway provide not only a carefree night of fun, but also a much-needed boost in confidence for cancer patients and survivors.

After being diagnosed with cancer when she was in her 40s and at the prime of her career, Parker felt her entire world shift.

Enduring 16 rounds of chemo, 35 rounds of radiation, two surgeries, and years of being on the chemo pill was devastating enough. Parker wasn’t prepared for the other changes that would rock her world, such as the feeling she got when she found clumps of hair on her pillow each morning or how difficult it became to carry on a conversation when “chemo brain” left her struggling to pinpoint her next word.

“Being in an organization like You Night and coming together with other survivors, we are able to not only share our stories, but also share our experiences with different doctors and resources. The program has been amazing and incredible because I have an opportunity to work with all of the beautiful You Night sisters who help me when I’m not feeling good or when I need anything,” Parker said. “This program has the way of making you feel comfortable and good about yourself, and that ties into the runway program. Sometimes people lose confidence in their looks during their cancer journey as their appearance and the way they think and feel about themselves changes. Getting us on the runway stage, dressing us beautifully, and having our family and our friends supporting us really boosts our morale and inspires us. With the You Night organization behind me, I’m not alone anymore.”

Lisa McKenzie founded You Night in 2013, after two of her friends were diagnosed with cancer. She remembers attending her first support group at the hospital and taking note of the dreary, fluorescent lighting and sad postures as information was presented on reconstructive surgery. At one point, her friend hurried out of the room and into the parking lot, where she told McKenzie, “I don’t belong here.”

McKenzie had the idea to host a runway show as a way to lift the spirits of cancer patients and survivors.

“What intrigued me about that idea is that the runway teaches confidence, posture, and how to look at yourself in a different way. It’s not necessarily to become a model, although many go on to become models. It’s to feel the way you want to feel about yourself on that stage,” McKenzie said. “If we could give women the tools over an extended period of time and become friends in the process, we could break down that barrier and help them learn their worth and discover a strength they didn’t know.”

Soon, the runway became a platform to help and inspire others.

While the runway program requires a larger time commitment, the You Night organization has expanded to reach more women. Those referred by their doctors and friends can join entry level programs called Spark Workshops that are designed to help women see that support groups don’t have to be scary.

Other programs are held throughout the year, one example being “Scart,” which uses art as a tool to help women see their cancer scars not as a deformity, but as a friend in their healing process.

Women in the River Parishes can find a list of You Night’s free monthly workshops and events in the New Orleans area by visiting sparkworkshops.net.

According to McKenzie, survivors, family and friends who want to participate in Ribbons Rock the Runway MUST attend a mandatory runway instruction session scheduled for Saturday, August 27 at Touro Infirmary (President’s Room, second floor, 1401 Foucher Street in New Orleans).

Runway training will take place from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., after the workshop session titled “What does your light have in store for you?” To register, visit sparkworkshops.net.

For more information about Ribbons Rock the Runway on October 1, visit ribbonsrockgala.com, younightevents.com, or call 877-591-5936 ext. 1.