SALISBURY — Local breast cancer survivors and caregivers shared their stories — both heartbreaking and empowering — with a large crowd Sunday afternoon at the Couture for a Cure brunch and fashion show at the Blue Ocean Event Center.

Sue Tabb, a breast cancer survivor and Magic 106.7 co-host, served as master of ceremonies, telling each person’s story as they walked the pink carpet during the fashion show. Before beginning though, she shared her own story.

Just as Tabb was about to go into treatment for the first time, a man told her, “Go in there and do what you have to do, and then go out there and live your life.”

Tabb said this moment stuck with her and gave her the strength to push through treatment, further showing the importance of a support system. The sixth annual Celebrating Survivors event is dedicated not only to those who cancer has affected, but the friends, families and caregivers supporting them.

The event, presented by the Institution for Savings and Anna Jaques Hospital, benefits programs at the Gerrish Breast Care Center and Anna Jaques Cancer Center, which is affiliated with Beth Israel Lahey Health.

Among the survivors walking the pink carpet was Nonie Olson, a third-grade teacher at Francis T. Bresnahan Elementary School in Newburyport.

In August 2017, Olson was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer during her annual mammogram. She completed 10 months of treatment and surgery, followed by 20 weeks of chemotherapy and a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. She finished five weeks of radiation on May 25, 2018.

When Olson’s doctors told her she was going to miss an entire school year while undergoing chemotherapy, she said, “No, no, no. I can’t do that.”

“My goal was to get back before the end of the year,” she said.

Olson returned toward the end of the 2017-18 academic year as a part-time staff member, and started 2018-19 as a full-time teacher.

Olson said the “amazing” moment came when she met her new students for the 2018-19 school year, realizing none of them knew about her “journey.”

The third-graders didn’t skip a beat, though.

They noticed their teacher with “super short hair” was wearing an ID featuring a photo of a woman with long hair. They asked her, “Who is that?” and “Did you used to have long hair?”

When Olson said she used to have long hair, a student responded, “Oh, I like you with short hair much better.”

Olson walked in the fashion show with Joan Sheehan, another third-grade teacher, to represent her Bresnahan family of caretakers.

Olson said she pushed through her treatment by keeping busy and “visualizing her classroom, visualizing getting ready to teach a lesson.”

“When I was having a really hard chemo day, I would think of a lesson I liked teaching,” she said.

Among the caregivers walking in the show were Anya Malis, an eighth-grade student at Rupert A. Nock Middle School, and her father, John. They walked in memory of their mother and wife, Lindamae Lucas, who died from ovarian cancer in 2018.

Following her mother’s death, Anya worked with her youth group at Central Congregational Church in Newburyport to design turbans for patients at the Anna Jaques Cancer Center who experienced hair loss during treatment. Each turban and cap included the tag “Remembering Lindamae.” 

As another way to preserve her mother’s memory, Anya designed a dress using the material from a dress she wore when she was 9 years old.

Other survivors in the show were Nancy Burke, Thomas Gass, BlakeLee Greene, Deb Hillard, Ashley Lowell, Ann Messina, Christine Smith, Susan Smith and Kim Mack. Other caregivers walking the runway included Dr. Colleen Yavarow, Sandy Gass, Taylor Greene, Liz Stratton, David Mack, Raelene Kukane, Arlene Tallberg, Ilene Harnch-Grady and Gayle Calistro.

The show featured fashions from local shops: Amy Williams, Bennett and Company, Bobbles & Lace, Clay’s, Edit Show & Style Lounge, Farley’s of Newburyport, J. McLaughlin, Meraki, Nauti Pearl, Pure Bliss, Smitten, The Color Mint and The Elephant’s Trunk.

Staff reporter Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at halterisio@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.

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