KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A woman who survived cancer is now bringing healing and hope to other people who are walking the same journey.
Sharon Butler Payne overcame breast cancer in 2009. As she was preparing to have her second reconstructive surgery, she came up with an idea.
"I had presented the idea of taking the bra and using it as a symbol of survival by turning it into a piece of art," she said.
She pitched that idea to the University of Kansas Cancer Center - and that's how Bra Couture KC was born.
It's a fashion show featuring cancer survivors as models.
"Being a survivor is something to be proud of. It's an accomplishment," Butler Payne said. "Even though they might have lost their breast, and even though they're walking with scars, it helps for them to have that moment."
During the show, the models wear elaborately-decorated bras, which are then auctioned off, along with big prize packages.
In its first year, Bra Couture raised more than $90,000. That first round of money went to the "Missys' Boutique Patients in Need" Fund.
Missys' Boutique is a cancer appearance center at the Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Care Pavilion in Westwood, Kansas. It provides wigs, post-mastectomy garments, scarves and other items for cancer patients. The money raised by Bra Couture specifically helped uninsured and under-insured patients buy those items, which are often not covered by insurance.
"All of those kinds of things, I think, provide the psychological healing, the feeling of 'I can get through this,'" Butler Payne said. "We provide healing that is beyond the actual medical care itself."
In its second year, Bra Couture raised more than $300,000 and decided to become its own 501C3 nonprofit organization. Since then, the group has expanded its services.
"Within the under-served community, you're going to run into a lot of individuals who work an hourly job. That means that they're not getting paid if they don't work. So how are they sustaining themselves for that period of time that they are too ill to work? We started paying rent and utilities and providing them food and gas cards," Butler Payne said.
The organization now supports seven in-hospital service centers, like Verda's Place at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center in Kansas City. That's where Sophia Milo found them as she battles lung cancer.
Milo has received a wig, hat, back massager, candle and cash to help with utilities and transportation.
"I enjoy dressing up. Even when I sometimes don't feel good, if I can get up and get dressed up, I feel better, a bit better," Milo said.
Kate Sweeten is the social media manager for Bra Couture KC and the one who nominated Butler Payne for KSHB 41's Women's History Month theme: providing healing, promoting hope.
"Providing healing, [that's] everything that's available in the center, whether it's prosthetics, it's supplies that people need going through surgery, and then everything beyond...Bra Couture will help you with that," Sweeten said. "The hope - that's kind of the whole point behind the Bra Couture event is the celebration of overcoming the journey of going through cancer."
Because of the pandemic, Bra Couture has not been able to hold its fashion show for the past two years. Butler Payne says that cost them around $800,000, so they've had to cut back on the amount of services they're able to offer to each patient. But she's hoping they can make up for it this year.
"There's hope there that we can help meet those needs that they cannot at this time in their life when they're already battling for their survival," Butler Payne said.
The fashion show will take place on Friday, April 22 inside one of the hangars at Signature Flight Support, located at Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City.
More information about buying tickets, volunteer for the event, or sponsoring a prize package is available on Bra Couture KC's website.
For cancer patients in need of financial assistance, a contact page is also available on the website.