Waging War on the Runway: Polishing Up for the 4th Annual “Pink Pearls to Save the Girls” Fashion Show Fundraiser in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

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Breast Cancer Survivors Karol Brandt and Mimi Hammons at "Pink Pearls to Save the Girls" event in 2018.,

By: TONI MILES, WXXV NEWS 25 TODAY MORNING NEWS MANAGER

Working in the news business for more than 25 years now, I’ve seen first-hand how tragedy strikes indiscriminately-on any given Tuesday, or a leisurely Sunday afternoon, when a parent crumbles amidst the scattered shards of glass at the scene of an accident, as the ambulance carries away her teenage son-time ticking away as she alternates between the piercing cries only a parent can know, holding down the lump in her throat, praying between sobs that her child’s life will be spared, that he will have a full life and full use of his limbs – while nearby, I ponder how I can use my camera, microphone, words to bring at least some form of comfort or encouragement while doing my job, covering a “story” that brings tears to my own eyes-sometimes tears that swell over my eyelids without control.

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Whether a drowning  or catastrophic car accident, there is almost always one common denominator-we never think it can happen to us – or our loved ones.

Cancer survivor Michelle Augustine walks the runway at 2018’s “Pink Pearls to Save the Girls” event.

On August 19, 2019, while in the process of writing this article for this year’s 4th Annual Pink Pearls to Save the Girls Fashion Show fundraiser, tragedy struck my own family. Again. It came in the form of a deer, crashing through the driver’s side windshield of a car driven by my beloved stepmother, Patti Miles. The deer didn’t seem to care how she has been one of the main matriarchs in our family, a shoulder to cry on when times are tough, a force to reckon with when we younger ones step “out-of-line,” nor did it matter that is was (supposed to be) just another normal night as she drove home after work. Thankfully, she slipped into unconsciousness as the medics airlifted her to a Jackson hospital, barely clinging to life with shards of glass embedded in her face, hair and eyes, face badly battered into an unrecognizable state. The paramedics at the scene doubted she’d live through it.

But I, we, believe in miracles, the power of prayer, and she did. She has. She does. It’s only been a few weeks, and after weeks in ICU and the hospital, she’s finally returned home, barely able to see out of one eye, unable to walk on her own, cannot chew food, nor, at this point, carry out the daily tasks with the stubborn independence and voracity we Miles women are known for. But it’s NOT over yet.

News 25’s Toni Miles (right) with her sister Nickie Miles Foster before 2018’s “Pink Pearls to Save the Girls” event.

And it’s not over for the countless women, some men, we all know, who are in a fight of their own – the dreaded fight against breast cancer. Breast cancer reared its ugly head in our own family, as well, years ago, when my younger sister, Nickie Miles Foster, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. A wife, sister, daughter, mother of two, and only in her 30s, she suited up for the fight. Nickie had, has, plenty to live for – a clear reminder each time she has looked into the confused, but loving faces of her two young children, Rusty and Dabria. Though weary between bouts of nausea, hair loss and chemo treatments that seemed to drag out, Nickie fought the good fight against this debilitating, sometimes deadly disease. Setting her face like flint, and standing stubbornly on her resolve to war against this foreign invasion of her body, she fought like never before, knowing her body was the battleground, and nothing but a “take no prisoners” mindset and approach- would do in the fight against this adversary – cancer. Her battle would test her mettle to the limit, and this match would prove even more fierce than the foreign, overseas site of her deployment while serving in the United States Army.

TONI MILES (left) AND KAROL BRANDT Walking the Runway at Pink Pearls to Save the Girls in 2018.

This is one story, I’m happy to say, that has had a “happy ending,” – so far. Nickie has been in remission since January 3, 2017. She packs lunch every morning for Rusty and Dabria, before driving them to elementary school. You’ll catch her seated at every single one of her daughter’s dance recitals and rehearsals, and she doesn’t take it so seriously when Rusty is “sick,” simply because he’d rather spend more time with mom. These are moments she cherishes, because she knows they could be limited, and fleeting – if the cancer returns. She knows the war is not over – not for her, or anyone, who could fall prey to breast cancer. Being what we jokingly call being “Miles-minded,” Nickie has her sights on winning the war, as all do who have been in the path of this wretched disease, like South Mississippi executive Karol Brandt, who lost her grandmother to breast cancer back in the 1960s, but took to the fashion runway at last year’s “Pink Pearls to Save the Girls” fundraiser in honor of the grandmother she barely had time to get to know. Or (then) 12-year-old Alexandra Bujon, who designed formal dresses tailor-made for last year’s fundraising fashion show. Then, there’s the also-unforgettable and lovely Michelle Augustine, a model in the 2018 show, who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer in April of that year, but who put on a brave face and showed off her fashion flair on the runway, despite having just undergone a double mastectomy and facing upcoming rounds of radiation treatments. And who could forget the vivacious Mimi Hammons, the Long Beach resident rocked the runway, celebrating nine years of being cancer free?

If you missed it last

Models wearing designs by 12-year old ALEXANDRA BUJON (second from left)

year, or the three years before, now’s your chance to get a “seat at the table” and reserve your seat at the 4th Annual Pink Pearls to Save the Girls Fashion Show at the Scarlet Pearl Casino in D’Iberville on Saturday, October 9, as ladies, and possibly some gentlemen, will take to the fashion runway once again to raise money with 100-percent of proceeds going to the Susan G. Komen Foundation in the fight against breast cancer and going  right back here in our local community. Suited up, and dressed to the nines, thanks to Dillard’s at Edgewater Mall, these breast cancer survivors, fighters and supporters, will strut their stuff on the catwalk, shining like pearls, putting their own personal struggles and challenges aside, taking steps in the fight against this debilitating disease. Tickets are $50 a person. You can get half a table for $200, with seats for five. There will be a silent auction with plenty of items to bid on. It’s a first class event, as the D’Iberville goes all out, to deck the halls and event center with joyful pink tidings, rivaling only the illustrious outfits provided by Dillard’s at Edgewater Mall in Biloxi worn by local models, who are fighting breast cancer or are survivors of the disease. A few local celebrities will also be rocking the runway. Others will walk in memory of a loved one who was claimed by breast cancer.

            If you would like to sponsor a table, just email: cares@scarletpearlcasino.com. For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to: scarletpearlcasino.com, and check out the “Events” section.

Look around you. One in eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Chances are you have a friend or family member who has faced, or is facing, this cancer. But you, they – we – don’t have to take it lying down. Join us in the fight against breast cancer. It’s a war we cannot afford to lose. Failure is NOT an option. Our battlefield is the fashion runway. You can join us on the front lines. In the spirit of the legendary words of Winston Churchill, “We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender,” but in our case, we shall fight on the runway. We shall fight while seated at the table. We shall fight in the laboratory. We shall never surrender.”

News 25’s Toni Miles behind the microphone at 2018’s “Pink Pearl to Save the Girls” event at the Scarlet Pearl Casino

Join the cause October 19, as Dillard’s suits up local models, and the Scarlet Pearl Casino sets the stage for yet another “round of battle,” in this fight against breast cancer, where you’ll also see me, Toni Miles, waging war behind the microphone, praying silent prayers and believing for miracles still…It won’t be long before the “blind,” my stepmother Patti Miles, sees again, or the brave fashion models at the Pink Pearls to Save the Girls walk cancer-free again, and one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, we will all rest, knowing, in some small way, we played a part in wiping out this deadly disease – and we did with broad smiles, decked out in pink,  and while wearing stilettos.

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