Terrell Cleare, 49, celebrated her seventh-year cancer-free with a turn on the catwalk as one of the honorees in Gillian Curry-Williams’ recent fashion for a cause event under her Remilda Rose Designs brand. While for many people walking in a fashion show may not seem to be that big of a deal, for Cleare the occasion was momentous, considering she describes herself as extremely introverted and reserved.
“I’m very shy in a crowd and around people I don’t really know,” said Cleare, but a head-to-toe makeover and a gentle nudge onto the stage she said has given her confidence she didn’t know she possessed.
“That one night made me feel special. It made me feel appreciated and gave me a better outlook on life, because I was always a negative person, and even more so after I was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. After that diagnosis I always thought about negative stuff – that the cancer would return, that people would always feel sorry for me. I just felt like a pitiful person and that people would not look at me the same, as the person I used to be.”
Curry-Williams’ fourth fashion show for a cause under the theme “Warriors, Conquerors, Survivors”, she said helped her to overcome her debilitating shyness.
“I always knew that I was a warrior and a strong survivor, but it made me feel more powerful knowing that I overcame such a serious situation and to be on stage for people to look at me and compliment me, made me feel beautiful,” said Cleare. “It just made me into a much stronger person.”
Cleare took to the catwalk with fellow honorees Douglas Hanna, Dr. Alia Campbell, Jennimae Johnson, Zitalia Fox, Latia Smith, Lorinda Woodside, Nakara Miller, Patrice Ritchie, Shantell Hutchinson, Sophia Rolle, and Andrea Sweeting who served as patron for this year’s show.
Each person honored was kitted out from head to toe.
“[Curry-Williams] brought in people to do our makeup, and the makeup was the best I’d ever had. Nothing I’d had done before could compare. I don’t like makeup like that, but after the application alone, I really felt beautiful. Looking that beautiful started to bolster my confidence to get up on that stage knowing how pretty I looked. And then I donned the lovely one-of-a-kind dress lace designed by Gillian just for me, as well as the jewelry and shoes, all of which she gave us, and I couldn’t help but think I’d never looked prettier.”
Cleare, as well as each honoree, walked the runway twice.
“If you don’t feel beautiful, participating in that show will make you feel beautiful,” she said. “And it left me not that shy anymore. I have more confidence, and I’m a much stronger person.”
Cleare, a mother of two, who celebrated her seventh-year cancer-free in July, said she knows that God has her, as she continues to live her life for her children and her husband.
She is a survivor of colon cancer – a disease that is almost 100 percent avoidable by doing a colonoscopy or other form of colon cancer screening. The first screening is recommended for people between the ages of 45 and 50, and is a test on an asymptomatic population to prevent or identify the disease in its early stage. During a screening, if a polyp is found, it can be removed in just a few minutes as opposed to a person waiting until he or she has a symptom that requires major surgery and chemotherapy.
At the time of her diagnosis at age 42 – three years outside the recommended testing ages – Cleare did not fit into the guidelines for screening for cancers that affect both men and women. And no one in her immediate family had been diagnosed with colon cancer.
There are four stages to colon cancer. In stage one, colon cancer is confined to the wall of the colon; in stage two, colon cancer has extended beyond the wall of the colon; in stage three, the lymph nodes are involved; and stage four involves distant spread to the liver and the lungs, etc.
The tumor that essentially destroyed Cleare’s colon was removed in a nine-hour surgery. She was also lucky in that she does not have to use a colostomy bag, post-surgery, as she had enough of a colon left to reattach together.
Besides attaining their 45th birthday, anyone who has had a close relative (parent, brother, sister or child) diagnosed with colon cancer, has an increased risk of developing colon cancer and should be vigilant and screened as the disease has a hereditary component to it.
Lifestyle factors also predispose people to developing colon cancer. People who are obese, smokers, and those with diets low in fiber and high in saturated fats are at an increased risk for colon cancer. Medical conditions like ulcerative colitis (inflammatory bowel disease) also increase a person’s risk of developing colon cancer.
The people honored with Cleare during the recent fashion for a cause event all battled or are still battling either colon cancer, breast cancer or pancreatic cancer. Fourteen people were supposed to be honored with Cleare on the night, two died prior to the event in that of Patrice Campbell and Veronica Jones; Samantha Rahming was unable to make the show because she did not feel well.
For Curry-Williams, the fashion show for a cause is personal. Her late father, Donald Curry was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. She took note of what he went through and how her mother, Letitia Curry – his main caregiver – dealt with him. Curry-Williams also took notice of how her father was at treatment sessions, which she would attend with him, which gave her the opportunity to take in how other people received treatment. What she witnessed made her wonder what she could do to assist as a designer. She, at first, came up with a fabric she dubbed the “Fabric of Hope” – a print made up of some of the colors associated with the various types of cancer. That was followed with the idea of staging a fashion show to honor individuals who were going through treatment or had battled cancer, during which Curry-Williams would debut designs in the “Hope Fabric” but at the same time, dress the cancer survivors/fighters in her original designs, giving them a turn in the spotlight on the runway.
“Dress them up and make them feel good … make them feel special,” said Curry-Williams. “And yes, you may not have any ovaries, you may not have a breast … you may not have breasts, because you may have taken both off, you may have had cancer in the lungs or the rectum, but the fact is you are still handsome, you’re still beautiful, you’re still worthy.”
Participating in the event, she said the honorees get to share their individual stories and what they went through, which she said allows others to see that cancer is survivable.
For Curry-Williams, the bottom line is she knows her father would be proud of what she’s doing, and the fact that she has continued with the event even though he’s passed.
Prior to his death, the designer said her father had expressed his pride in her thinking of the idea of a fashion show for a cause, and she was able to host her first show before he died, even though he was too sick to attend.
Each female being honored gets a dress designed by Curry-Williams; the male gets a suit.
During the event, models also take to the runway in designs by Curry-Williams in the “Fabric of Hope.”