Fashion for a cause

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Among those who supported the cause were our own Miss Universe titlists Pia Wurtzbach (in a Cary Santiago confection)

Fashion Can Serve, organized by the ICanServe Foundation, is more than just your typical fashion show. In celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the fashion event brought together six of the country’s illustrious fashion designers—JC Buendia, Ito Curata, Cary Santiago, Vania Romoff, Mia Arcenas, and Rosenthal Tee—to support the fight against the Big C.

The featured Filipino designers drew inspiration from the courageous and triumphant journeys of breast cancer survivors, and interpreted these in their creations while showcasing their respective aesthetic and artistry.

For his collection, designer JC Buendia highlighted the symbolic battle color, which is pink, and used cherry blossoms and peonies as design elements.

“Through my experience of creating clothes for breast cancer survivors, I have learned over the years that the secret to battling cancer involves inviting positive vibes and just being happy,” the celebrated fashion designer shares.


Cebuano designer Cary Santiago (whose sister is a cancer survivor) for his part, featured classic ensembles in muted colors. The collection was “a celebration of a woman’s fluidity and femininity.”

“Chic and classic” can best describe the collection of renowned designer Ito Curata, showcasing hope and life in the classic lines and fluid silhouettes.

Designer Vania Romoff reflected on the strength of people who have been afflicted with breast cancer, or have/had loved ones fighting the disease. Her dresses conveyed that strength as seen through a woman’s beautiful figure.

Another young designer making waves in the fashion industry, Rosenthal Tee, joined the fashion show as a support to her main assistant who had been diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer late last year.

“Luckily, we were able to find her the help to do chemotherapy and have the breast surgically removed, and now she’s recuperating well so far. It hits so close to home because she is someone I encounter everyday, and she’s like family,” relates the designer, whose collection brimmed with “flirtatiousness and youthfulness” with a play on the East Asian influences.

Designer Mia Arcenas, who believes that this is such a strong cause to support, also focused on a woman’s strength. Her collection for the show conveyed the two aspects of a woman—the soft, feminine side, and the strong side. She believes a woman can take care of herself, even with a disease like breast cancer.

But more than the beautiful clothes, the real highlight of the show for those who attended was seeing cancer survivors walking down the fashion ramp, with big, triumphant smiles on their faces, appreciatively and proudly taking in the applause of the audience.

Derek Ramsay essays a creation by Ito Curata.

This year’s muses included: Teresa Gan, Sandy Lamb Moran, Sabrina Panlilio, Annie Aboitiz, Crisann Celdran, Mai Aguiting, and Caren Torres-Rama, who all walked with their children and grandchildren.

Celebrities Derek Ramsay, Solenn Heussaff, Jasmine Curtis, Katarina Rodriguez, Mitzi Borromeo, WynnWynn Ong,

Also lending their support were the country’s Miss Universe titlists Gloria Diaz (1969), Margie Moran-Floirendo (1973), Pia Wurtzbach (2015). Wurtzbach and Asia’s Next Top Model Maureen Wroblewitz also modeled to support the cause.

Additionally, Wroblewitz, the first Filipina to win Asia’s Next Top Model, was the face of Fashion Can Serve 2017’s poster. Her mother, a former ICanServe volunteer, succumbed to breast cancer, and it’s in her memory that Maureen is supporting the foundation.

This year’s theme was “Why We Fight,” which emphasized the reason the persons diagnosed with breast cancer choose to fight. They do this for their spouses, children, and grandchildren.

“Even though we fight for ourselves, having loved ones to fight for gives one extra strength for the battle. We don’t wage this battle alone. At ICanServe, we have banded together as sisters, and we have family and friends fighting with us as our rear guard and/or vanguard,” says Libet Virata, chair of the foundation.

Many women and men who have walked for FashionCanServe in the past three years have a personal cancer story to tell. Some of the organizers and women in the audience are also cancer survivors, brimming with hope and rallying for fellow survivors.

ICANSERVE founder Kara Alikpala, who herself is a cancer survivor, shared the story of Teresa Gan, a paralegal, a wife of a part-time administrator in a subdivision, and a mother of three daughters who was diagnosed with breast cancer, got the best possible medical care, and is now disease-free and on maintenance medication. This, she said, was made possible by the ICANSERVE Foundation’s Cancer Samurai Scholar Fund.

The Samurai Scholar Fund, the brainchild of philantrophist and breast cancer survivor Chuchu Madrigal adopts one breast cancer patient a year and provides that patient with access to the best medical team and facilities from start to finish.

Gloria Diaz (wearing JC Buendia). Diaz walked in memory of sister Rio, who died of colon cancer in 2004.

The idea of the Samurai Fund is to provide a person’s adopted patient with transportation and accommodations near the hospital for the duration of radiation, and giving them anything else that ensures the best healing process. Chuchu’s only request for the adopted patients is to pay it forward in any way they think they can. For Teresa, her pay-it-forward deal is to volunteer as cancer patient advocate for the ICANSERVE’s community-based breast cancer screening programs.

This was the message that the fashion show wanted to highlight: breast cancer does not equate to a death sentence. The World Health Organization declares that Stage 4 cancer is curable and not the end of the line. It is curable, especially if caught at an early stage.

The Philippines has the highest incidence of breast cancer in Southeast Asia, and among the top ten in the world.

“Many think that the Cancer Samurai Scholar fund is not a wise investment. All that money going to one patient, it is impractical, naïve and too romantic. We, the cancer survivors, take offense when you call us an investment, especially when people think investing in a patient with late stage or terminal cancer is like investing in a sinking ship,” says Alikpala.

“Eleven Filipinos are diagnosed with cancer every hour; seven patients die every hour. But extending the life of a patient by a day or a year is a gift of an eternity to many families. One life is priceless. The loss of one life is a scandal as much as losing a hundred patients to cancer deaths that could have been prevented.”

Since it was founded in 1999, ICanServe Foundation has made great progress, but there is still more to be done.

“We changed our old mantra from ‘Early detection saves lives’ to ‘Early Diagnosis and access to timely and correct treatment saves lives.’ The ICanServe’s vision is to see all barangays and community health centers in the Philippines to promote and conduct early breast cancer detection, and have all local government units provide free or subsidized diagnostics and timely treatments. We dream to get a National Integrated Cancer Act to be passed so that every Filipino cancer patient regardless of cancer stage, age, gender, income bracket, has a chance at life,” foundation president Tang Singson says in conclusion.

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