The Heels Were Made for Walking.....
As New York Fashion Week got underway , I began to wonder if any of the major fashion houses would include breast cancer survivors in any of their respective shows. Although Breast Cancer Awareness month is a few short weeks away in October, (which will offer a plethora of opportunities for survivors to rip a runway), I was really curious to see if I might catch a glimpse of a "sister in the struggle" doing her thing at the holy grail (except for Paris) of fashion excellence.
Almost immediately my search took a hard right turn, and instead of nodding my head in acknowledgement of a survivor sashaying in the bright lights of a fashion show, I was sitting across from a poised, confident, funny and very brave fashionista who's clearly on a mission, founder & head life coach, Beating Cancer in Heels, very own Marlena Ortiz.
Beautiful, compact and with an abundance of NYC attitude (Like Gin, Hennessy or Tequilla served straight with no chaser) breast cancer survivor Marlena Ortiz is fiercely determined to bring the importance of cancer awareness, early detection and support to women under 40. Oh, and I must add that Marlena and her peers plan on looking damn good while doing it! Beating Cancer in Heels is a 501(c) (3) non profit organization that empowers young women who have been diagnosed with cancer. Through virtual life coaching, workshops and social activities, Beating Cancer in Heels has been providing much needed support to a consortium of individuals diagnosed with cancer under the age of 40.
As a woman who was diagnosed as a child and then again as an adult (under 50) I have pretty good understanding that although we have commonalities, there are some big differences and concerns between children, teenagers, young adults, mature adults and the elderly when managing a cancer diagnosis. For example parent's and caretakers of a child who is undergoing chemotherapy, radiation or some form of cancer regime may be concerned about a host of developmental problems that could arise down the road. For young and mature adults concerns may include fertility, inability to breast feed, loss of income and sexuality. For the elderly, concerns about a cancer diagnosis on top of managing another chronic disease, along with mobility issues and age bias when determining inclusion in clinical trails, could be just the tip of the iceberg.
On the warm sunny in September, I'd set up camp at a small and cozy cafe at the recommendation of Marlena in north Brooklyn. As I sat quietly consumed by my own thoughts, the realization set in that I'd done very little research and this chat with Marlena was going to be truly organic, going strictly off of the cuff. My worries quickly dissipated as my gaze swung up, to observe a burst of smooth energy stroll quickly into the cafe. Wearing a pearly white smile and exuding the epitome of cool, earthy, confidence I instantly knew that this would be more than just an interview. It would be one survivor chatting with another about their hopes, motivations, experiences and what's on the horizon.
My initial interests were pretty simple, how did Marlena end up in the position that inspired her spirit of advocacy which created an idea, and then a movement. The answer was both simple and traumatic. In 2009, at just 25 years old, Marlena was diagnosed with breast cancer. Young, vibrant and in the prime of her life, she discovered after self examination, and a sixth sense that nudged her along to seek medical care, she was in a fight for her life. Things moved pretty quickly and after being told she would have to go thru a regime that included chemotherapy and hormone suppressing drugs, Marlena sought out support for dealing with the transition. Finding little that she could relate to (remember this was in the early days of social media), Marlena decided to take things into her own hands and with that motivation Beating Cancer In Heels was born.
With a background rooted in fashion, and wanting to bridge the gap between those diagnosed, those receiving treatment and survivors, Beating Cancer in Heels provides a safe and supportive platform for young women to address issues, become educated and feel empowered. Whether it's enjoying a relaxed fellowship with peers at a Girls Night Out, getting glam tips and bags full of swag during Beauty Tutorials or speaking with a Life Coach, Beating Cancer in Heels is dedicated to provide mindful support to young women. A savvy and well spoken advocate, Marlena and Beating Cancer in Heels has been featured in The NY Daily News, Nine West's collaboration with Fashion Targets Breast Cancer and numerous radio & TV appearances including The Wendy Williams Show.
Marlena already has her sights set on 2017 and will be tackling the task of another fundraiser, with the goal to continue to provide creative, fun, introspective, and educational opportunities for young women navigating the cancer experience.
For more information on how you can support or participate in upcoming events, please check out www.beatingcancerinheels.org. In addition make sure to check out their cool and inspiring Instagram and Facebook pages.