Sexy on the Catwalk, Local Models Strike a Blow Against Cancer

October 30, 2011
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Actress Ann Jillian and cancer survivor share her unique cancer journey and how to find the "Winner in You."

Actress Ann Jillian and cancer survivor share her unique cancer journey and how to find the "Winner in You."

John Gonnella and Teddie Main of La Verne, Glen Gary of San Dimas and a handful of other stylish cancer survivors showed on Saturday at the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center Foundation’s fashion show – the 9th Annual Celebrating with Style – that’s it never too late or too early to strut your stuff down the catwalk.


In front of a full and enthusiastic house of family, friends and other supporters, including their doctors and other caregivers, they “walked the walk,” at the DoubleTree Hotel in Ontario, Calif., to help raise thousands of dollars for The Robert and Beverly Lewis Family Cancer Care Center Endowment Fund.


The models were selected by their doctors at The Robert and Beverly Lewis Family Cancer Care Center to make their walks down the fashion runway to celebrate their healing journeys in their fight against cancer and to pass on their gift of hope to others.


“Joann George, a four-time cancer survivor, saw the concept in Orange County about a decade ago and brought it up here to recognize survivors and caregivers,” said Pomona Valley Hospital spokeswoman Kathy Roche. “She is now battling Parkinson’s Disease but we always think of her and her great enthusiasm of survivorship.”


Thus, it was only fitting that the Foundation featured Ann Jillian, who won the “Best Actress,” Golden Globe award in 1988 for her starring role in “The Ann Jillian Story,” portraying the Hollywood star’s private battle and victory over breast cancer. Today, she is the longest celebrity cancer survivor known, and the only one to go on and give birth in 1992, to a son, Andy Joe.


The entertainer, who also co-starred with Mickey Rooney in the hit Broadway musical, “Sugar Babies,” said she wanted the occasion to be a celebration and a reward for those who continue to overcome the disease, so she sang, told jokes and warned the audience that her address, normally about 90 minutes, would be short and sweet. “As Elizabeth Taylor told all of her husbands, this won’t take long,” she said.


In closing, she reminded everyone that “early detection is the best protection,” for surviving cancer and then rejoined the audience to watch the 10 runway models and cancer survivors share their joy and positive attitudes as they showed off their casual, business and formal attire to the pulsating beats of a fantastic music and light show, worthy of any Paris or New York fashion parade.


John Gonnella posed with his family before being called to the catwalk and his new modeling profession.

John Gonnella posed with his family before being called to the catwalk and his new modeling profession.

La Verne’s John Gonnella, a Korean war veteran and former caterer who came out in his chef’s hat, was a particular favorite. Flipping pancakes and blowing kisses, few would have suspected he is still undergoing post-radiation treatment under the care of Pomona Valley Hospital for prostate cancer.


Before the show, Gonnella joked that he received such excellent care from The Robert and Beverly Lewis Family Cancer Care Center because he is a hospital volunteer, known as “The Coffee Man,” who every Monday dispenses free coffee, tea, books and magazines, as well as crayons to the kids, from his hospital cart. “They told me, we need you to stick around,”’ he said about his caregiving team. His wife and fellow hospital  volunteer, Evelyn, to whom he’s been married for 57 years, escorted him down the runway for the formal portion of the fashion show.


When Claremont author and speaker Glenn Gary took his turn down the runway, he was a reminder to all that cancer strikes even the young, handsome and fit. Only 42, Gary was diagnosed in 2010 with a sarcoma of the neck. A golf ball-size tumor had formed on the top of his Adam’s Apple. Two surgeries later, one performed at the Robert and Beverly Lewis Family Cancer Care Center and the other at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles, have put his cancer in remission.


For somebody who didn’t’ smoke, eat junk food or drink anything stronger than filtered water, the diagnosis was startling. Moreover, the cancer was attacking his throat, the precise instrument by which he makes his living of public speaking (


“You go deep into the valley when you’re diagnosed,” Gary said. “There are really no words for it. You’re really given a choice. You can do nothing or choose to find the tenacity and inner strength to deal with it.”


“It can take weeks and months before you get to a better place.”


Events like Saturday’s exciting fashion show help bring survivors to a better place and help raise funds for the Cancer Care Center’s wellness, education and psychological programs offered at no charge to anyone touched by cancer. There, many in the support and wellness groups learn what really is important in life.


“The interesting transcendence,” Gary said, “is you are no longer concerned with materialism and cars and houses and money. You’re just concerned about your health and whether you’re going to live and die.”


By his participation, Gary and his fellow catwalkers, as well as all their supporters, showed they have found their inner winner – that positive, optimistic person inside that chooses to see life not at as prison, but as a colorful prism to view to see life in a totally new perspective.


As Jillian said, “You may have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have you.”




So many people contributed to the success of this year’s show. Helping everyone in attendance Celebrate with Style were Judy Feldmeth, event chairperson; Moderators Rosanne Bader and Jennetta Harris and Live Auctioneer Grant Snyder. Macy’s in the Montclair Plaza (Joe Wetter, Store Manager, and Robin Valjoma and Macy’s Staff) and Michael Carducci, owner of Carducci Tuxedos in Claremont furnished all of the fashions and accessories.


Underwriters included Stone Creek Company, Premier Family Medicine Associates, Inc., Fairplex, Anne and Jack Doyle, Inland Valley Daily Buletin and Wet N’ Wild.


Spotlight Table Sponsors were: Advanced Color Graphics, Ginny Blackwell and Friends, Susan Burke and Friends, Cal Poly Pomona – President’s Office, Glenda Ferguson, Friends from Mt. San Antonio Gardens, Josephine Fulton, Inland Valley Hematology Oncology Association, Inter Valley Health Plan, Pomona Valley Imaging Medical Group, Rescue services International, Royalty Radiation Oncology Medical Group, Inc., Doris Terveer and Julie Terveer, the law offices of Fransen & Molinaro, LLP, Anita Valoff, Dr. Lori Lee Vanyo, Peggy Verrill, VNA & Hospice of Southern California, Inc. Sara and Kurt Weinmeister and Robin and Rich Yochum.


Model Sponsors included: Betty DesCombes, Mr and Mrs. Charles Magistro, Mr and Mrs. Stephen Morgan, Dr. and Mrs. Kenneth Nakamoto and the Xerox Corporation.


Style sponsors were Virginia R. Burley, Judy Feldmeth, Pat Kostoff and Mr. and Mrs. Jack Tanaka.


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View the REEL people video to see more of the show!

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