Updated: Mar 7, 2019
BY KELLI MOORE Special to the Farmer NEW ORLEANS ADVOCATE OCT 25, 2017
When Magan Brown, of Slidell, was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, she knew little about the rigors awaiting her.
Not only did the disease wreak havoc on her body, but there also was the painful process of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The stress was daunting, and it spurred the end of her young marriage as well.
Following her last round of chemotherapy in 2014, Brown, a longtime fitness enthusiast, started lifting weights at the encouragement of her doctor. At first, she could barely curl 7½ pounds, but she eventually worked her way up to 35 pounds.
Today, as an amateur competitive bodybuilder, she is not only cancer-free but also the epitome of health, beauty and vitality as the reigning Miss Fitness Louisiana 2017.
Brown is one of 28 women cancer survivors who will don the latest in fashion and promenade proudly on a runway before throngs of friends, families, health-care professionals and well-wishers. It's all part of "You Night St. Tammany," a fashion show presented by cancer survivors with similar tales of courage and perseverance.
The event will take place on Thursday, Oct. 26, at the Castine Center in Mandeville, with the theme “British Invasion." Participants each will model three outfits in a groovy, fast-paced and fun-filled atmosphere that harkens back to the 1960s era of British pop music.
Now in its fifth year, You Night was the inspiration of founder and CEO Lisa McKenzie, a Mandeville-area businesswoman who was looking to create a new event that would “take women and put them in an empowering experience.”
Drawing upon her background in special events and hospitality, and fondly recalling her college days as a member of Delta Gamma sorority, McKenzie developed You Night as an empowerment training program that would address the emotional, physical and mental effects of cancer while building a sisterhood of support.
Since the first fashion show in May 2013, more than 200 cancer survivors have taken part in the You Night experience. Due to its growing popularity, You Night expanded to New Orleans in 2015 and now produces two six-month programs each year.
The fashion show is the culmination of six months of preparation.
Structured activities leading up to the show are designed to uplift and empower participants, helping them rebuild self-esteem, develop a newfound appreciation for their own bodies and rediscover a joy for living.
“Many women who have been diagnosed with cancer find that it is difficult to embrace their ‘new normal.’ Life post-cancer comes with ongoing challenges related to body issues, questions of mortality or the fear of recurrence,” McKenzie said.
Unconditional support is an important key to the program’s success, as is teaching participants not to label themselves as patients anymore.
Because cancer can take both a physical and emotional toll, McKenzie said, many participants beginning the program lack confidence in their appearance due to surgical scars and side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
This insecurity manifests itself in myriad ways. McKenzie recalled one program participant who rehung all the mirrors in her house at a higher level to avoid looking at her post-surgery scars.
“You Night is a strong sisterhood of support disguised as runway training, where women find strength in these friendships and learn that their new normal can actually be incredibly strong, when they are given the right tools for success,” she said.
McKenzie produces the event with a team of professionals, many of whom have survived cancer themselves. They lend expertise in areas ranging from business, fundraising and graphic design, to photography, modeling, hairstyling and makeup artistry.
Over the course of the program, team members prepare participants for the runway, training them in modeling techniques such as posing, posture and stage presence.
Sponsors give participants an assortment of beauty products and services. The women are given makeovers, and they are encouraged to step out of their comfort zones to try different fashion styles and accessories. All this is accomplished while providing camaraderie and support.