News & Events

Survivors in Fashion Show

September 22, 2011


Barbara Chiangi

Many cancer survivors will say that you can’t let your guard down. Fourteen years after her original diagnosis, Barbara had a re-occurrence of breast cancer – which she self-detected, and acted upon immediately. Six years later, she is now involved in many fund-raising and awareness raising projects with Backus Hospital and other community organizations. She continues to enjoy life with family and friends, especially her beautiful granddaughter, Gemma, and her hero models. She also loves dancing with the Pink Ribbon Tappers. “Attitude is everything,” she says, “Live, love, laugh and enjoy every day — and always share your smile – it goes a long way.”



Barbara DeFronzo

She was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 43, and had a mastectomy.   She been married to her husband, Frank, for 51 years, have two children and two grandchildren.  “As a 27-year breast cancer survivor, I have learned to trust my instincts regarding my health, laugh, have some fun and dance, and surround myself with positive people.”







Barbara Paul

Barbara was diagnosed at the age of 49, with my first mammogram.  She has  two children, five grandchildren, and four great grandchildren. “My family has always been there for me through the good times and the not so good times.  Thank you Melissa for being there you are the light of my life. I cannot stress the importance of mammograms. I know it saved my life, and I encourage everyone to get checked!”







Donna Palumbo

Many know Donna Palumbo as the pink boa lady—a reference to the many hand-knitted scarves she makes for breast cancer patients and in support of the Backus Breast Cancer Survivors Fund.  She is also known for her outgoing, fun-loving personality. Donna’s breast cancer was discovered during her first routine mammogram at 40 years old.  Her comfort during this trying time came from her positive mental attitude, a sense of humor and a strong support system— especially her husband Michael. She married Michael one week before her last chemo treatment in July 1997. They not only celebrated the beginning of a new life together that day, but life itself. Donna believes strongly in sharing her story and trying to assist others dealing with breast cancer diagnosis in many ways. She loves being a mentor to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients through the ECHO Cancer Foundation’s One to One mentor program and also enjoys her involvement as an advocate for the national organization- the Community Oncology Alliance. Donna has learned many lessons through her experience with cancer — the most important being to celebrate life.



Elisse Rosen

 Coming from a family with extraordinarily high incidences of breast and ovarian cancer, Elisse was diligent in doing her self examinations and in scheduling her preventative medical exams and mammograms.  Nevertheless, in 1996, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  In partnership with her doctors, her approach to treatment was aggressive – surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, tamoxifen and letrozole.  More than 15 years later, Elisse is cancer-free and leads an active life.  She lives with her husband Paul and her shaggy dogs and loves dancing with the Pink Ribbon Tappers. Her advice to all is “trust your instincts and be an advocate for your own health care”.



Karen Bourque

 Karen Bourque was diagnosed in February 2005 with Stage III breast cancer.  She quickly learned how cancer affects everyone in a family, both as patients and caregivers.  Karen underwent several surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, mastectomy and breast reconstruction — all while helping in the care of three family members who had also been diagnosed with cancer.  Karen uses her personal experiences to mentor women through their journey through the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery Program.  As Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”.  Karen is very happily married to Douglas and makes her home in Norwich.  They have four children – Liam, Bryan, Matthew and Kara.  She would like to thank them and her entire family for their love, support and “failure is not an option” attitude during her journey.



Lisa Barile

 After finding a lump in her left breast, she was diagnosed in November 2009 with Stage II breast cancer. “My husband was with me — I was devastated. But I’m here to tell you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I had chemotherapy and radiation and I thought it would never end, but it did. When I lost my hair, that was devastating but now it has come back and everyone loves it. I would like to thank my wonderful husband Sam, daughters Sara (age 20) and Samantha (age 17), and supportive family and friends kept me strong in faith to stay positive and strong. So to all of you, who have been diagnosed, hang in there and you will make it. If I can, anyone can, but it’s not an easy road.”



Kathie Rothaupt

 At age 39,  after her first mammogram, Kathie was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She chose the aggressive approach: lumpectomy, chemotherapy. radiation and tamoxifen. She’s now thankful every day for the good health she’s enjoyed for the past 19 years. Life is very full for Kathie and her husband Dan, and never taken for granted.  They enjoy spending winters in their Sarasota home and have recently started bicycle riding.  Most important is spending time with their growing family,  who have all taken on roles in the fight against breast cancer. Their youngest daughter, Colleen, will be flying to Kampala, Uganda in October, traveling in a mobile mammography unit and attending oncology rounds at Mulago Hospital’s Cancer Institute.



Marie Joly

 Marie, 56, has been a survivor for 13 years with one reoccurrence nine years ago. She has been given a chance to take a second look at the value of family and life. She enjoys each and every day with her dear husband of 34 years, Mike. Together they enjoy biking, hiking, kayaking and traveling. She is also the proud mother of two, daughter Kristin, 32, and son Steven, 29. She has also welcomed her daughter-in-law Katie with open arms. Without early detection and excellent care she would not be able to watch her children grow into adulthood and enjoy the many celebrations. As a survivor she works as a mentor to bring support to newly diagnosed patients. She also continues to support raising funds to promote early detection and research to the fight against breast cancer. She is very fortunate to have a wonderful support system that includes family, friends and co-workers. Also the excellent care given to her by. Backus Hospital and Eastern Connecticut Hematology Oncology Teams — which all significantly attributed to her recovery and quality of life. “Thanks to all who are helping us to make a difference in our mission!” A quote that inspires her comes from Mother Teresa: “The most important medicine is tender love and care.”



Michele Flowers

Michele Flowers has been a breast cancer survivor for 16 years, and hasn’t wasted a moment of her time. Six months after her mastectomy in 1997, she fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting Paris and Northern Italy. While working full-time, she returned to finish college as well as complete her certification as a yoga instructor. She went on to start her own business “Inner Harmony Yoga,” teaching numerous weekly classes. Michele is also an active member of ECHO Cancer Foundation’sOne to One program, mentoring newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. She brings a warm smile and a positive attitude and a message that the human spirit is stronger than anything that could happen to the body. Since her fight with cancer, her intention is to celebrate life every day, be grateful for her blessings and follow her heart.



Ruth “Ann” McCloud

Ruth “Ann” McCloud was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer on February 14, 2005.  She and her husband, Les, built their dream home in Groton in July, 2008.  Ruth is a nurse at Mystic Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.  She would like to thank her wonderful husband for his love and great support, as well as her Survivors in Fashion colleagues. “It is a privilege and an honor to work with these ‘survivor beauties.’  I never thought that I would be part of a special group of strong loving women like this.  I’m so glad that we are showing our local residents that having this ‘monster’ inside doesn’t define you as a person, but helps you all to see what some ‘angels’ look like!”



Florence Barth

 At 87 years old, she has survived Breast Cancer three times – 1972, 1992, and 2002.  A registered nurse, most of her working years were spent in the Operating Room as head nurse at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital. She has been called upon many times over the years to provide support and encouragement for other women facing breast cancer, including her own daughter.  She still maintains a very busy life – volunteering at the East Lyme Senior Center, playing Mahjong and Bridge, working with a personal trainer, having lunch and dinner with friends, and spending time with her three great grandchildren.  “Enjoy life, hope for peace, and maintain a positive outlook,” she says.



Sandy Wayne

 The daughter of cancer survivor Florence Barth, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995. She feels that the wonderful support of family and friends helped her maintain a positive outlook during surgery and treatments and, that, along with regular check-ups, has contributed to her 16-year survival.  She says one of the “positives” of having breast cancer has been meeting so many others who have shared this experience, and the resulting friendships, especially with the other Pink Ribbon Tappers.  “Keep busy, stay involved, and love life,” she says.




Marci Brensilver

Life is too short. Start with dessert!” Those are the words 20 year survivor Marcie Brensilver lives by. Bilateral mastectomies and chemotherapy would not keep her down. She tap dances, is Walker Recruitment Captain for the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation (she just walked her 7th Marathon), knits, is involved in fundraising for four non-profit organizations, and serves on the Eastern Connecitcut Symphony Orchestra Board.






Barbara Souder

 Barbara was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 49.   After undergoing a lumpectomy and lymph node dissection along with radiation treatment and five years of tamoxifen, she is now, at age 62, cancer-free.  After retiring from Computer Sciences Corporation in July of 2004 she has adapted very well to retired life, as has her husband of 43 years, Bill.  She is the mother of one son, Christopher, who along with his wife, Silvia, has blessed them with two grandchildren, Gabriella and Nicholas.   Barbara is involved in many ministries at her Church, some of which include Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, and the Prayer Shawl Ministry.  She is a handbell musician with the Hosanna Ringers at her church and has been a member of the Pink Ribbon Tappers for the last seven years.  She is also a One to One mentor with the ECHO Cancer Foundation.  She enjoys being with her best friend, husband Bill, and her grandchildren, traveling, knitting and crocheting, reading, kayaking, and spending time in the Adoration Chapel “where she can give thanks to God for the wonderful people in her life.”


Denise Braley

 Sixteen years ago, Denise was diagnosed with breast cancer. Both her mom and her aunt had already gone through the disease, so it came as no surprise. After a lumpectomy and five years of tamoxifen, everything was clear until this past year. A mammogram detected a spot on the other side. After a Stereotactic biopsy, the report showed scar tissues only. Denise encourages women to have mammograms as both times her lumps were discovered with this process. On a personal note, she has recently completed all coursework for her Doctorate degree and is one year away from graduation. At the same time, her son, Drew, continues to work on his Doctorate in Immunology. She and her husband, Rick, celebrated their 5th wedding anniversary in August.”Having the loving support of family through this ordeal is so important. On October 20 we will ‘strut our stuff’ to show support to those who are fighting. Know that we are here for you and we thank you for your support.”


Susan McIvor

Susan McIvor is a four-year breast cancer survivor and was able to accomplish this with the love and support of her husband, Ken, her three children, her family and friends. She was diagnosed at the age of 38 due to early detection by a mammogram.  Sadly, her grandmother, Helen Muench, lost her battle with breast cancer in 1973. Susan is proud to say her grandmother’s memory lives on through her niece, Helen Muench. Susan is also grateful for her tap dance teacher, Louise Neistat, and the Pink Ribbon Tappers. She would like to thank Mrs. Joyce Costner for giving her hope and strength.




Heather -Jo Purcell

  Forty-seven years ago, Heather-Jo competed in the Miss America pageant as Miss New York. She won the grand talent award for classical singing. In 1976, she had a feature role in Rocky II. In 2001 she became a cancer survivor. She discovered a lump in her breast and underwent a lumpectomy, lymph node removal, chemotherapy, and radiation. After being widowed three times, she is very busy with her four children, three step-children, and six grandchildren. Heather-Jo is also an active aOne to One mentor with the ECHO Cancer Foundation. She lives by her favorite saying, “Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift—that’s why it’s called the present.”



Evelyn Kennedy Commentucci

 Evelyn admits to collecting Social Security but will not discuss her age, since “aging is for wine and cheese.” She met Fred Commentucci in  New Hampshire in l999, the same year she was diagnosed with Stage V ductal breast cancer. Fred’s love, care and comforting carried her through the difficult surgery and breast reconstruction. They married in 2001.  Evelyn is Owner of Sewtique in Groton, with a textile studio serving the community for 42 years. She is most proud of her family — her two sons, daughter, four grandchildren and a great grandson, along with Fred’s sons, daughter and granddaughter. The Survivors in Fashion event has given Evelyn “an opportunity to solicit funds for a worthwhile and meaningful cause to aid many stricken with cancer.”