Community and empowerment at New York Fashion Week
Erica Bleznak went for genetic testing and found that a mutation on the BRCA1 gene greatly raised the chances that she would be diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer. She decided to get a prophylactic double mastectomy and oophorectomy to lower her risk of cancer. A growing movement of people identify with previvorship, living with an increased risk of cancer. In February she walked in the AnaOno #fearLESS show at New York’s Fashion Week. AnaOno makes lingerie for women who have had breast surgery to treat or prevent breast cancer.
Erica will be honored with the Donna Noce Colaco Going Beyond Award at LBBC’s 2020 Butterfly Ball for her contributions to the LBBC community, including her involvement with Reach & Raise, LBBC’s signature yoga fundraiser.
LBBC spoke with Erica about her experience at Fashion Week and finding a place in the community of people affected by breast cancer.
Photos by Julie Holder, c/o AnaOno
Why did you want to participate in this show?
I wanted to participate to create some awareness around BRCA and encouraging women to consider getting tested. I also have felt on the margins of the “breast cancer” community: Being BRCA-positive I feel in the middle place between those that are living with breast cancer and those who are not.
What was it like walking down the runway? How did you feel before, during, and after?
Whew! I don’t normally parade around in a bra and underwear in front of a few people much less over 600; but it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. When I stepped out on stage I could literally feel the warmth, love, and receptivity from all the people in the audience. It was like they were cheering me and acknowledging some of the challenging choices I have made regarding my BRCA status. Dana from AnaOno was the biggest of all the cheerleaders. She made us all feel so beautiful and inspired throughout the weekend she was the wind beneath our sails!
What does it mean to you to be sponsored by LBBC for this event?
I was so floored! What a honor to be acknowledged by an organization that I have so deeply admired for so long. I am always in awe of the incredible work LBBC is doing and its ability to create events whether they be online forums or Reach & Raise and create an environment of camaraderie and love.
What was the sense of community like at the show?
This question makes me tear up. I was quite frankly a little nervous at how I would be received since I am not living with breast cancer. I was able to have a choice and do preventative surgeries to hopefully decrease my changes of breast and ovarian cancer — so I was concerned that I wouldn’t be embraced by those living with breast cancer — but boy was I wrong. Every woman I had the opportunity to share with held me with such love. Even though we were from all walks of life, coming from different parts of the world, different races, economic backgrounds, lifestyles, political affiliations, different stages of breast cancer or previvorship and on and on, there was this common thread that connected all of us and it was palpable in the support and cheers and hugs that were given so freely throughout the entire weekend. I have made so many new friends and women who I can turn to for support.
Would you do it again, and why?
Oh please can I?!!! I would love to do this again but part of me feels like it was one of the greatest experiences of my whole life and I would want someone else to be able to have the gift of what I experienced.
If there is a history of breast cancer in your family, ask your doctor if genetic testing is appropriate. Learning about a mutation that affects cancer risk can affect treatment decisions and help family members find out if they have an elevated risk. LBBC has resources to help you learn more about genetics and hereditary breast cancer risk.