Updated: Mar 10, 2019
Quote by E. Corona. Article by Lisa McKenzie, You Night Founder
Have you looked into the face of a warrior? What do you see burning in her eyes? Have you ever asked her how she became a warrior in the first place?
We give our participants -- who have been beaten up by cancer -- the opportunity to see themselves differently.
We get to play dress up each year with our You Night themes, but no theme has ever hit me so hard as the one that we are having this year called, “Fierce Beauty: Revolution”. Our past themes have included pirates (“Treasured”); classic rock (“Rock the Runway”); fighter theme (“Fight Club”); and 60’s British Invasion (“You Nighted Kingdom”).
We change the theme each year to keep our audience entertained with new music and decorations, but the main reason we do this is that there is a really beautiful thing that happens when we bring talented members of our community together to love on and transform our participants into these alter egos. One of my favorite speakers is Amy Cuddy who has a great talk on Ted Talks called, "Your body language may shape who you are (see: https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are). In her talk she says, (paraphrased) "Don't fake it until you make it. Fake it until you become it."
The warrior theme...too dark for some?
When I chose this theme, an older gentleman said in a meeting, “I hate this theme. It’s dark and depressing”. His comments came as a surprise, because I thought that out of everyone in this community, he would get it. After all, he has spent his lifetime in oncology and full well knows that these ladies are in the battle for their lives. Is there a pretty way of presenting the battle of cancer?
Every day, in our You Night world, we are talking about the battles – the daily struggles that the ladies continue to have after being diagnosed with cancer. The essence of You Night is that women who have been diagnosed have a safe place to land where they will be surrounded by people who “get it” and who will give them empowering tools to lead their best possible lives – despite the aches, pains, and fears associated with this horrid disease.
Keep in mind – these are regular ladies who didn’t start out as warriors! They are your neighbors, teachers, moms, daughters – they are people in our community who are just like you and me! They had regular lives, with regular families and then one day someone said the words, “YOU HAVE CANCER”. Somewhere in that process of understanding the fight before them, they had to go from being a soccer mom or business executive to becoming a warrior –each and every one of them.
One of our participants (Z Ordonne) was coaxed into joining our program. Our program is designed to help women embrace life beyond cancer. We do this by offering empowering group activities. One of our programs is called "You Night" where we have a team of empowerment coaches train the participants to walk the fashion runway. It's an interesting process to watch unfold, because many of the women who enter our program do not feel worthy of being on that stage.
Z was deeply depressed and had had no hope about her future. Cancer had destroyed her and was waging a war in her household. Her daughter dragged her to our first meeting (called our “Meet and Greet”) where the 24 class members for the current year get to know one another. After being in the room with our team, her new sisters and the alums, she sent me this text. “I was completely lost with no hope for my future the day before I came to that meeting. After being in that room with all these strong women – who have gone through the same shit I’ve been through – it made me feel like I can do this.”
THIS WAS HER WAR CRY. SHE WAS NOW PREPARED FOR THE BATTLE WITH HER ARMY BESIDE HER.
If there was ever a message that I want to get across to anyone who is listening, is that the battle is something these ladies wake up and do every day. Some are still in treatment, and others are many years out. But the war waging inside their bodies and minds continues, because once faced with cancer – life is not the same. Check ups have new meanings, especially when the doctors give the “all clear” (followed by the“Praise God's). Check ups have new meanings when something suspicious shows up in the scans (followed by heartfelt prayers). Check ups have new meanings when, for days prior to the appointment, the “what ifs” start playing around in the head and fear grips the heart and soul. And Lord knows that we need an army of individuals for those who are still battling the disease!
In the midst of this battle, how do these women strip themselves of the label of “victim of cancer.” I think many of them come to terms with the fact that they will never return to their original “normal” – as we hear this in their conversations. The question they all have to figure out is, “What is my new normal, and does my new normal have to have a negative connotation?”.
This gets to the heart of the matter. In our program, we provide a lot of love, but we also do our best to provide coaching and teaching that helps women develop strength and beauty that comes from within. When a woman looks into a mirror without hair and eyelashes, it’s not easy for her to believe that she still is beautiful. UNTIL you see her on the runway stage with fire in her eyes. For some of our participants, it takes a while for the fire to appear – that’s why our training program lasts for several months. But when the inner fire does appear – watch out. Once it starts to burn, it’s virtually impossible to extinguish. Because when a woman truly understands her value, and that life is not defined by societal norms of ribbons and bows, it’s a value that can be passed down to our daughters who are watching. What better gift is that – then to show the next generation that despite our struggles, we don’t have to be defeated (and that we can actually be much stronger than we ever thought possible).
We have an event called, “Battle of the Models”. It’s an annual launch party for our season, where we get to introduce the year’s theme and give our alums the opportunity to showcase their runway skills and friendships of the You Night sisterhood. At this year’s theme, one of our alums asked me ahead of time if she could wear a bustier with a body suit, that would reveal that she had one breast. I said, “Absolutely – go for it”. The photos of Z are below.
After the event, there were some negative comments made about Z showing her body parts. And I get it – we are a conservative society and exposing body parts is sometimes frowned upon and it makes people uncomfortable. On the other hand, if ever there is a platform to show the TRUTH about cancer, I believed that Battle of the Models was the perfect place for Z to show the world what cancer did to her. Cancer took her breast, but cancer did not take HER!
If she is brave enough to be on stage showing that a body part has been cut off but that she still is strong, beautiful, amazing and confident, should we not be standing on our feet giving her a standing ovation?
As my daughter said after hearing some of the negative comments, “Mom – you would think that as a society we would have evolved on this subject matter.” She is right. Should we tell these warriors to be shameful? I mean – is that any of OUR business when they are the ones who look in the mirrors each day! Shame on us if we are the self-conscious ones and don’t applaud them!
I feel very strongly about what Z did that night on stage, and hope her courage will resonate with every woman who is facing this battle. YOU CAN DO THIS, but it is imperative that you surround yourself with other strong people who will lift you up and walk alongside you as you journey to this new, incredible you.
Cancer does not have to be a negative connotation that you assign to yourself. Women are resilient, especially when they are surrounded by people who can equip them to realize their purpose and passion, and it is so much fun watching our participants discover a strength they never even realized they had.
Once a year, we get to play dress up to film a music video for the year’s theme. When we play “dress up” – we have a purpose for this. For one, dressing up allows us to channel something that doesn’t happen in our daily lives. We get to emotionally take on the persona of the costume we are wearing. Doing that with a room full of other women results in a lot of laughter – which is something not usually associated with cancer. Secondly, we do this because the experience of filming a music video dressed in character results in newfound friendships, that the ladies will take with them throughout the entire runway training process -- and then for years after that.
But most importantly, dressing up allows women to explore some deeper truths that perhaps they didn’t consider until they looked at themselves in the mirror and saw a warrior looking back.
There are 15 million survivors in the United States. We are thankful to the incredible team of physicians, family members, friends, salons, stylists, photographers, videographers, choreographers and those who come just to serve. We are grateful to those who go to battle everyday for these survivors. It is our hope, through our program, that we can continue to find ways to address the psycho-social impacts that cancer has on people, while also rallying the troops in our community who can love on these women and help them navigate to a new, incredible normal.
YOU ARE WORTHY. KEEP ON FIGHTING.
These are the warrior videos that our 2018 classes filmed. What do you think?