It wasn’t your average Saturday afternoon.
After all, how many kids get to pick out a new outfit, strut their stuff on the runway and receive celebrity treatment on any given weekend?
But that’s exactly what happened March 27 when pediatric cancer survivors and their siblings hit the catwalk to pre-record Children’s Cancer Network’s annual fashion show fundraiser, “Inspirations 2021: Color Me Happy,” scheduled April 10.
In years past, the fundraiser has included a live fashion show, but amid COVID-19, organizers opted to tape and stream this portion of the event.
“Many of the kids we serve are extremely immune-compromised, so this year’s fashion show will be streamed,” said Patti Luttrell, founder and executive director of Children’s Cancer Network. “Filming the kids in small groups was so much fun and really gave them a chance to show off.”
The fashion show will feature young cancer survivors and their siblings wearing fashions that reflect their personal styles while emcee Bruce St. James chronicles their cancer journeys, along with their interests, talents and lives outside of the disease.
“It gives these children an opportunity to step into the limelight, show off a little bit and bask in positive attention,” said Luttrell.
“Kids with cancer spend so much time enduring painful treatments, and their siblings have their own difficult journey,” she explained. “This is a rare occasion to experience the magic of childhood, free from chemo, spinal taps and hospital stays.”
Among the dozens of children and teens who walked the runway are Chandler residents, 12-year-old Kylie, who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma last May, and her big sister, Kayla, 13. Kylie chose jeans and a purple blouse for her turn down the runway, while Kayla chose Dickies pants and a green shirt. All items were donated by Macy’s.
“It was so nice for the girls to be able to participate in the event together,” said the girls’ mom, Jolene Lark. “CCN has been such a great support and has given the girls so many things to look forward to throughout this journey.”
While the kids’ fashion show is the centerpiece of “Inspirations 2021: Color Me Happy,” the event also includes a luncheon, a silent auction that will be open for bidding from April 6-10 and a live auction the day of the event. Prizes range from personal services and sports memorabilia to travel packages, experiential activities and more.
Guests have several options for attending the fundraiser: at Dominick’s Steakhouse in Scottsdale for an in-person dining experience with hosts Bruce St. James and Letitia Frye, at La Torretta Ristorante, also in Scottsdale, for an intimate dining and event experience, or virtually via Zoom while enjoying a takeout meal from Dominick’s.
CCN’s fashion show debuted in 2005 while Luttrell’s young son, Jeff, was undergoing cancer treatment for leukemia.
At the behest of her daughter and Jeff’s big sister, Jenny, who was desperate to help families battling pediatric cancer, they held the premier event. This got the nonprofit organization started in earnest.
CCN has come a long way since then. The organization serves hundreds of Arizona families each year, providing gas and grocery gift cards, hospital admission kits to help new families navigate the road ahead and adopt-a-family programs for back-to-school season and the holidays.
The organization also hosts activities to boost self-confidence in young cancer fighters, programs to help siblings cope with cancer, and provides a multitude of other services.
“We fill in the gaps where hospitals and insurance companies leave off,” said Luttrell. “Our goal is to ease the financial strain of pediatric cancer and offer social and emotional support through programs that help families from the moment they receive that terrible diagnosis.”
The American Childhood Cancer Organization reports that 60 percent of U.S. families battling pediatric cancer spend as much as $10,000 annually on non-medical expenses during their child’s treatment.
Half of all families experience considerable to severe financial difficulties as a result of the medical and non-medical costs of fighting the disease.
Proceeds from “Inspirations 2021: Color Me Happy” fund an array of programs and services for pediatric cancer families across Arizona, with more than 80 cents of every dollar going directly to families in need.