Beyond the Pink Runway: A Night of Empowerment and Elegance

By Shira Firestone

April 2024

The inaugural Beyond the Pink Runway Breast Cancer Fundraiser, held on March 2, at Queens University of Charlotte’s Sandra Levine Theatre, was a resounding testament to the strength, resilience, and beauty of young women battling breast cancer. This landmark event benefited the Sandra Levine Young Women’s Breast Cancer Program at Atrium Health Levine Cancer, which has been a beacon of hope and support for young women since its inception in 2017.

The evening was conceived of and co-chaired by Dr. Lejla Hadzikadic-Gusic, a renowned oncology breast surgeon and co-director of the program, and Sandra Goldman, director of the Hebrew Cemetery and a fervent breast cancer advocate. Their shared passion for supporting young breast cancer survivors and empowering them through fashion and camaraderie brought this unique event to life and raised over $150,000.

Together, they opened the evening’s program by welcoming the audience with their heartfelt gratitude. Dr. Hadzikadic-Gusic, expressed her appreciation for the program’s benefactors and the transformative impact it has had on over 800 women since its inception in 2017. She shared her personal motivation for the event, emphasizing the power of reclaiming self-expression and dignity amidst the battle with breast cancer. “You are thrown into this world that you never wanted to be in… It can take so much away at times, dignity, control, sexuality, a sense of ‘self’,” she remarked. Quoting iconic figures such as Audrey Hepburn and Coco Chanel, she underscored the significance of resilience and radiance in the face of adversity. “I wanted our ladies today to have this moment of power and energy and fabulousness back and I hope this moment in time stays with them forever. “

Sandra Goldman then recounted the serendipitous collaboration that led to the creation of Beyond the Pink Runway.

“Dr. Hadzikadic-Gusic and I met just over a year ago at a speaking engagement and I was impressed with this powerhouse of a woman and realized quickly how our visions and dreams aligned. Shortly after, I dedicated funds raised through a skydive to one of her research projects. When we got together again, she confided in me how she always had dreamed about a fashion show with patients.

Having run some fundraisers in the past, I was intrigued and said ‘let’s do it!” Goldman and Dr. Hadzikadic-Gusic embarked on a journey to realize their dream of showcasing the strength and beauty of young breast cancer survivors through the transformative power of fashion.

Together, they called up on stage Sandra Levine to honor her for making this program possible and for the impact she made on young women affected by breast cancer. Her dedication created a sanctuary for those grappling with the complexity of breast cancer, offering not just solace but also a profound sense of hope, strength, and empowerment, fostering a one-of-akind community bound by their shared journey.

The evening included a cocktail hour, where guests enjoyed delicious hors d’oeuvres and perused silent auction items, all set against the soulful backdrop of jazz melodies provided by Middle C Jazz. This set the stage for an extraordinary showcase of fashion and fortitude. Ambiance was set by Creative Events of Charlotte.

With WBTV News anchor Mary King guiding the proceedings, attendees were treated to a mesmerizing display of courage and camaraderie as ten young breast cancer survivors took to the runway to the tune of their favorite song alongside their favorite doctors and nurses. Each poignant moment was preceded by a moving video showcasing the journey and resilience of these remarkable individuals.

The fashion show was a vibrant display of courage and elegance, featuring breast cancer survivors in outfits styled by Veronica Beard and Renata Gasparin. Local artist Lorie Arthur transformed the healthcare providers coats and scrubs into unique pieces, incorporating each participant’s three favorite words, colors, and symbols. This customization highlighted the deep connections formed in adversity, adding a personal touch that underscored the night’s themes of solidarity and empowerment.

As the evening drew to a close, guests participated in a live auction, led by David Gerrard, further demonstrating their commitment to supporting the Sandra Levine Young Women’s Breast Cancer Program and its mission of empowerment and healing.

Beyond the Pink Runway Fashion Show Fundraiser was more than just an event; it was a celebration of resilience, a testament to the power of community, and a beacon of hope for all those affected by breast cancer. The Beyond the Pink Runway event underscored the vital work of the Sandra Levine Young Women’s Breast Cancer Program, which offers support for young women since its inception in 2017, ensuring that they have access to tailored services, including genetic counseling, fertility preservation, peer support groups, integrative oncology, and more. The evening not only raised significant funds for the program but also highlighted the unbreakable bonds between patients and their caregivers, showcasing the collective strength of the community in the face of adversity.

Looking ahead, the overwhelming success of the event and the positive feedback from attendees have sparked discussions about making Beyond the Pink Runway an annual affair. The organizing committee, buoyed by the support and enthusiasm of the community, is already contemplating how to build on this year’s success to continue making a difference in the lives of young breast cancer survivors.

For those inspired to contribute to the ongoing efforts of the Sandra Levine Young Women’s Breast Cancer Program, donations are still being accepted. Your support can help extend the reach of this vital program, ensuring that more young women have access to the care, resources, and community they need to navigate their breast cancer journey.

Co-chairs Dr. Lejla Hadzikadic-Gusic and Sandra Goldman
Sandra Levine receiving the inaugural Beyond the Pink Runway Award and cochairs, Dr. Lejla Hadzikadic-Gusic and Sandra Goldman
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