The Southern Lights of Life Gala, a yearly fundraising event organized by the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition, will take place Saturday night at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino.
Now in its tenth year, the annual event celebrates the lives and courage of breast cancer survivors with a lavish dinner, cocktails, live and silent auctions, live entertainment and an upbeat fashion show. Last year, the gala was attended by more than 450 people who helped DBCC raise more than $150,000 for local Kent and Sussex County survivors.
This year's live entertainment, sponsored by Harrington Raceway & Casino, will be provided by In Gratitude, a tribute band to Earth, Wind & Fire. The Mari Hill Band will also be performing.
The highlight of the night belongs to the fashion show, which features 10 southern Delaware breast cancer survivors walking the catwalk in the latest boutique fashions.
One of those survivors, Janice Itzell of Camden, took time ahead of the show to talk about her affiliation with DBCC, her mindset for dealing with the disease and what's waiting on the other side of breast cancer.
Q So, you are a breast cancer survivor. When were you diagnosed?
A I was diagnosed in December 2011, but I am currently cancer-free now.
Q Were you shocked when you received the diagnosis?
A It's really kind of funny. Breast cancer is so common so I don't know that it was such a shock. I never asked myself, "Why me?" or anything like that. As a matter of fact, it was my husband who said, "OK. Get all the information you need and we'll take care of it and we'll move on." And, that's been my attitude the whole time.
Q So, how did you hook up with the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition?
A I have a very good friend who was helped a lot by the Coalition and she gave me the contact person's name. I immediately felt like these are people who have been where I am and understand. It was just a good fit from the very beginning. I met so many women who are 10, 12, 15 and 20 year survivors, which took care of the fear and dread that's associated with a breast cancer diagnosis. Although, honestly, I don't even know if I had any fear and dread. I just thought I would take care of it and move on. And, I'm the proof of doing that. I never really wallowed in self-pity or any of that stuff.
Q You sound so strong. But, doctors say that a positive mindset can help in the recovery process of just about anything. It sounds like mindset was a big part of your recovery story.
Page 2 of 2 - A. Absolutely. That's why I grabbed on to the coalition. It's all about survivorship and positivity and enjoying life.
Q How does the DBCC work? Do they hook you up with a mentor?
A They do. Depending upon what kind of breast cancer you have and what kind of treatment has been recommended, they hook you up with somebody who's experienced that exact thing. So, within days of first contacting them, two women called me to tell me about their experiences and answer my questions. I mean, you can go online and get all kinds of information from your doctor but hearing it from somebody who went through it and who's been through the same diagnosis, the same treatment that's been recommended to you is so much better.
Q It sounds comforting.
A Exactly. It is comforting, especially when these women are so positive and so upbeat and are surviving. You start to think, 'if they can do it, I can do.'
Q And, now that you're on the other side of your treatment, you're a mentor yourself now, right? What's it like to be on the other end of those phone calls?
A I was more nervous talking to my first mentee than I am about walking in the fashion show this weekend. I know firsthand that everything you say is going to be taken to heart and that this is a moment that you'll have a big impact on somebody. But, I also feel like there's a reason that I went through everything now. I can help another person. It's empowering, really, to be able to do that.
Q Well, speaking of empowerment, is that one of the reasons you wanted to be one of the models?
A I just wanted to be in an environment where survivorship is celebrated and brought to the forefront. Because, I don't think a lot of people who are touched by cancer or know somebody who was touched by cancer realizes that there is so much survivorship out there. So, to see so many women onstage in this format is really empowering to us. We're not victims. We're survivors. And, I hope other people see that. And, I hope other women who find themselves in a similar situation see that. Life goes on. We have great lives after cancer.