Breast Cancer Survivors Bring Hope to the Runway

By Dewey MacMillen
Photos: Dewey MacMillen and Anh Phan Photography

Breast cancer is never welcomed; the experience is not positive and the repercussions from this terrible disease can be detrimental. However, Runway for Recovery, a non-profit organization that creates a stage for those heroes among us who have battled breast cancer, or for the children of those who have passed away, is redefining what breast cancer can mean.

Runway for Recovery is an organization that puts on an annual fashion show and silent auction event featuring brave male, female and child models who are either in treatment, are survivors or are family members walking in celebration or memory of loved ones affected by the disease. You won’t find a group of models with more energy, hope, love and, most importantly, the power to inspire, anywhere else. We, as the organizing team, specifically tell the models not to try and be professional, but rather to take the stage and “dance it out.” Watching the crowd and the models smile, laugh and completely forget about cancer is one of the most rewarding things I am lucky enough to experience every October.


This year’s show opened with a mother and daughter who have modeled four times in Runway and hold a deep connection with the event and the founder, Olivia Achtmeyer Boger. Kathryn and Savannah Phillips stood on the runway while Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake” played softly in the background. Kathryn began by telling her story of losing her mom to breast cancer at age 25. She talked about the fear and sadness of suddenly being without her mother. She then told the audience of her own diagnosis at age 34, which happened while having a 3-year-old daughter at home. Kathryn spoke about the fear again: the fear of leaving her daughter without a mother.

Thankfully, Kathryn fought and won her battle, and went on to participate in Runway for Recovery four years in a row. She and her then-four-year-old daughter, Savannah, walked for the first time to celebrate Kathryn’s final treatment. Her hair had just begun to grow back when she and Savannah danced down the runway. The point of Kathryn’s opening speech was that Runway had changed her daughter’s experience with breast cancer. Savannah’s experience with the disease is one of positivity, hope, dancing and joy, and Runway provided her with that. Hearing stories like Kathryn and Savannah’s are why Runway for Recovery is special to so many people, including me.

The night itself is lively and upbeat in all ways; whether it’s the pink cocktails, the pink lollipops and cookies, the breathtaking arrangements from Winston Flowers, or the amazing silent auction packages, everything is styled from the top down. With packages ranging from a weekend trip to Stowe, a cooking party for eight with a Williams-Sonoma chef or four tickets in a luxury box to watch the Patriots (hopefully) kick a** against the Bills, auction coordinator Madeline Demoulas has it down. With help from all of us, Demoulas creates the most enviable packages with the cutest — and most sparkly — displays.

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The stage is set, the music up and the models ready. I am backstage with fellow model coordinator, Tysie Sawyer, sending over the models and giving them any last minute pep talks. Some are smiling and ready, others have tears in their eyes. It is the end of the show and there are five incredibly special women standing beside me, holding hands while waiting for their cue. These are Molly’s girls. Molly Bidstrup walked with her identical twin sister, Ann, in 2013 to celebrate Ann’s survival. A few months after the event, Molly found out she would have her own battle to fight. She vowed to overcome the disease and model with her sister again, this time both as survivors.

Sadly, Molly passed away in April 2014, leaving behind five women who would become the stars of Runway 2014: four sisters and a daughter. Brett, Ann, Joan, Ginny and Kate stood next to me and stepped onto the runway, dancing for Molly and all of the courage she fought with and the joy for life she possesed. The crowd cried and clapped, cheering these women on and helping them honor their loved one. It was the most fitting way to end another perfect year of Runway.

Boger began the event six years after her mom (my aunt) lost her battle with breast cancer. My connection with the organization began when my sister and I modeled in Year 1 and 2 in memory of my aunt. In the past three years, I have adopted more of a behind-the-scenes, organizing role, which I welcomed with open arms. Working with the models and seeing the ways in which this organization and event can help re-shape and redefine womens’ experiences with breast cancer loans me an invaluable amount of joy and satisfaction. I cannot put into words how moving and meaningful the event is, so I simply encourage you all to find out more for yourselves and hopefully attend, volunteer or donate in the future.

“The road to recovery gets shorter when we walk together.”


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