Models on a mission

Breast cancer survivors and firefighters set to strut stuff for a worthy cause

Breast cancer survivors and firefighters model during The Celebration last year.

Breast cancer survivors and firefighters model during The Celebration last year.


The Celebration:
• Sneak Peek: Friday (Oct. 3), 5 p.m. Tickets: Peggy, 893-8827.
• Show: Saturday (Oct. 4), 11 a.m. Tickets: Mary, 343-7889.
Both held at The Palms (2947 Nord Ave. in Chico).

When Kathy Lanpheir moved to Chico in 2009, she learned of a charity fashion show in which breast cancer survivors were models. Being a survivor herself, she was eager to attend, but the show sold out well in advance.

The show came together again in 2012, and Lanpheir took the stage as a model. Last year she stepped up as co-chair, along with Ronnie Campbell, and now 38 other women—plus one man—are following in her footsteps.

The Celebration will take place Friday and Saturday (Oct. 3-4) at the Palms in Chico. It will benefit the Celebration Compassion Fund through Enloe Medical Center, which helps cancer patients and their families defray expenses not covered by health insurance. Even with this year’s expansion to two presentations instead of one, demand for tickets has remained high. The event coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The show features the models wearing outfits provided by local clothing stores, escorted by Chico firefighters, and performing in skits and musical numbers. Their ages range from 24 to 84.

Lanpheir remembers being “excited but scared” about her first foray into modeling, at age 67, but came away feeling enriched.

“It’s a special club that you belong to after you’ve had breast cancer, and I wanted to meet others who had the same experience as myself,” said Lanpheir, who’d moved from Fairfield to Chico in order to be closer to her son. The Celebration “showed me how strong we are, and I got to see women—especially the younger ones—who are so upbeat and willing to try anything. I didn’t realize it would be so powerful to meet other [survivors].”

Charlene Mikeska understands the power of that experience. She, too, is a breast cancer survivor, and while living in Marin County, she took part in the event that inspired The Celebration, called Stepping Out to Celebrate Life. She modeled in the second Marin County show, in 1997, and helped organize the event each year until retiring to Chico in 2006.

“I vowed, when I moved up here, that I wanted to start something similar,” Mikeska recalled. “It has really caught on. It’s really inspirational and empowering to the models as well as to the audience. Usually, by the end of it, everybody is on their feet, swaying to the music or clapping or whistling cat-calls.”

The Celebration Foundation that Mikeska founded consists of volunteers who organize the event and direct proceeds to the Celebration Compassion Fund. Case managers at the Enloe Regional Cancer Center draw on it to help patients and their families meet needs ranging from transportation and overnight stays for treatment to purchasing wound-care supplies. The first two shows put more than $26,500 in the fund.

Though her personal experience is with breast cancer, and all the models battled that specific disease, Mikeska committed to “spread the money around to all cancer patients,” she said. “That makes me feel really good. And the money does stay in the county—that’s a big issue for me.”

To produce The Celebration shows, Mikeska approached Deverie Jarrett. Chicoans may know Jarrett for her interior design work—she taught for 10 years at Butte College and runs her own firm, Deverie Jarrett Design—but she’s also a former model with runway experience.

Jarrett didn’t want the event to be a traditional fashion show; she envisioned a performance. Thus, she’s integrated music, dance and acting into the repertoire. She also sought a variation on the Marin County tradition of having escorts for the models, so she walked into Chico Fire Station No. 1.

“What these guys do for a living is save lives and these women, and the one male model this year, are all survivors,” she said. “I thought these guys should be given recognition as well.

“They have this macho feel about them, but they are all very sensitive, sweet, caring, loving people, and a lot of them have had cancer in their own families.”

Jim Lucanic, a Chico firefighter since 2006, connected with Jarrett and helped rally colleagues to the cause. He’s one of 14 with Chico FD participating this weekend; it’s his third time.

“You have to see the shows to see how far we step out of our box,” he said with a laugh. “At the last rehearsal, being around four guys I work with all the time, dancing around in circles, we were like, ‘Wow, I never thought I’d see you do that!’

“But look at the cause—it’s for a great cause.”

The models, too, step out of the box and their comfort zone by “putting themselves out there,” he said.

According to Lanpheir, the firefighters make that step a lot easier. “The firefighters are our heroes,” Lanpheir said. “They treat us like we are the most beautiful things in the world. There’s no discrimination; we all flirt, we all laugh, and the firemen are so kind to all the women. It’s very emotional for me to see that part of it.”