It’s hard to feel beautiful after a total mastectomy.Susan Wojcik would know. In 2004, the Southampton resident was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer and thrown into a whirlpool of surgeries, implants—since removed—and reconstruction.
Just when it might seem that Ms. Wojcik couldn’t get any braver, she has.
On Thursday night, the 53-year-old will join nine other models and bare it all—almost—in front of hundreds during the fifth annual Reconstructed Bra Fashion Show & Auction at the Southampton Social Club.
“I think we should all still feel pretty, no matter what happened to our bodies—scars and all,” Ms. Wojcik said on Monday during a telephone interview. “This will help me in that way. I may be the oldest model ever, but I’m definitely gonna be working the runway.”
Nine women—and, for the first time, one drag queen, Danny Ximo—will stomp down the catwalk twice, each time wearing one of 20 original bras designed and constructed by 10 local artists.
Typically, the bras fetch between $250 and $5,000 each, according to organizer Stacy Quarty, and last year raised more than $33,000 collectively for breast health organizations Lucia’s Angels, the Coalition for Women’s Cancers at Southampton Hospital and the Ellen Hermanson Breast Center, as well as the “LI2Day Walk for Breast Cancer” team Heaven Can Wait.
“This year, I’m so happy about the diversity we have, with the artists and especially the models,” Ms. Quarty said during a recent telephone interview. “I normally get a lot of white blonde girls. They’re stunning, don’t get me wrong, but I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want other people, too.’”
She got her wish with Cheryl Lee Bennett—a 5-foot-11-inch-tall professional model with an exotic look, thanks to her Native American heritage mixed with German, Irish and English genes. She is wild about makeup, bold jewelry and her two daughters, 10-year-old Jenna and her sister, Sophia, who was just 8 months old when her mother felt a lump.
“I went right to my gynecologist, which was the best move I did. And I saw her face when she felt it,” Ms. Bennett said on Monday during a telephone interview. “She sent me to the Southampton Breast Center for a biopsy. And then I waited for the phone call. I can’t even explain waiting for that call. It’s like waiting for everyone’s worst fear.” The date was June 1, 2012. Ms. Bennett was 31 years old.
Just a few seconds after the phone rang, she fell to the floor.
She had Stage 2A breast cancer. And she had to prepare Jenna for what would happen next—a mastectomy and the removal of 30 lymph nodes, followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
“I read books to her and explained that I would have a mastectomy,” Ms. Bennett said. “I told her before chemo started, ‘Mommy’s hair is going to fall out,’ but that I’d have pretty scarves. I love fashion and I love makeup, and when I’d go get my chemo, I’d doll myself up and put on my big earrings. My nurses would rave, ‘Look at you!’”
The survivor is even making the best of the surgery’s side effects—lymphedema, a severe swelling due to damaged lymph nodes in her right arm—by wearing colorful sleeves. The everyday condition is not curable, she said, but she is learning to live with it.
“I want to show women that, despite the side effects of breast cancer and everything you go through, you can still come out strong and beautiful,” Ms. Bennett said. “It’s empowering. I want to help inspire women and tell them that you can get through this.”
Appropriately, Ms. Bennett will rock the bra “Your Might in Shining Armor” by Emily Morales—“It’s almost like a survivor bra, a warrior bra,” the model said—on Thursday night, as well as Bernadette Libardi’s “Check Out These Puppies.” Each cup has a bright pink, stuffed animal dog’s head with a long pointy snout and black pom-pom nose.
Ms. Wojcik’s bras are equally boisterous—Temidra Willock’s “Sassy,” dripping in fringe, and “Un Présent du Coeur” by Lisa Bass, affixed with a giant coral bow.
“I’m a little nervous, but also feeling good. Chin held high,” Ms. Wojcik said of the auction. “Oh yeah, this will be the first time I’m gonna be shakin’ ’em.”
As they do every year, the crowd will go wild when the models hit the runway.
And, finally, Ms. Wojcik will feel beautiful again.
In support of the “LI2Day Walk for Breast Cancer,” the Heaven Can Wait team will host its Reconstructed Bra Fashion Show & Auction on Thursday, May 15, at 7 p.m. at the Southampton Social Club. Tickets are $50 in advance, or $60 at the door. VIP tickets are available for $90. Proceeds benefit local breast cancer awareness and support programs. For more information, call 726-8715 or email email@example.com.