Helping Cancer Survivors Live Better

on October 1, 2009
David Mudd

These five good Samaritans are using their talents and passion for fashion, food, wine and the great outdoors to help people with cancer live better lives.

Pedal power
Two loves were born the day when then-single mom of three Vida Greer stumbled into the new bike shop near her home in Nashville, Tenn., in 2002. Years of running and aerobics had taken a toll on her body and friends nudged her to consider exercise on two wheels while she recovered from her latest injury.

Fortuitously, the shop's owner, Lynn, sold her the perfect bike—and agreed to give her some one-on-one riding pointers. "Afterward, I wrote him a little thank-you note, and we started dating soon after," says Vida, who married Lynn in 2003. "I was learning to ride with a fantastic rider and I just fell in love with the sport."

Then, in 2004, Vida and two cycling buddies hatched an ambitious plan: to organize a charity bike ride to benefit breast cancer research. "We all knew people who had been affected," Vida says. And through her experience running in charity races, Vida understood the extra motivation that comes from raising money for a good cause. "It's nice to be training for someone other than yourself," she says.

That year, more than 400 women—about 350 more than they expected—showed up for Hope on Wheels. "We had always been really strong on the idea that it should be women-only," Vida says. "We wanted to reach out to part of the population that won't come otherwise."

With five years of Hope on Wheels in the books, Greer and co. are steadily adding to the nearly $350,000 raised for the Minnie Pearl Foundation's breast cancer research fund. And they made another addition this year: men. "In the fight against breast cancer, we can't discriminate," Vida says.

Despite the money they have raised, the ride's not all dollars and cents for Vida. "If it was, I wouldn't do it," she says. "When you experience it, you realize it's much more than that." —Beth Dreher

Taking it outside
When Matt Hayne, 26, heard about First Descents, a Colorado-based outdoors adventure camp for young cancer survivors, it was like a breath of fresh air. The then-16-year old had just endured six months of treatment for a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. "Being around other young adults at First Descents made a big difference in my recovery," Matt says. Now he and other survivors compete in adventure races as Team Beyond Cancer to raise money to send other kids to the camp. This year, they aim to raise $20,000—enough to fund 20 kids. "We wanted to do something to give back to the camp that had given us so much," Matt says.

In good taste
Chef Rebecca Katz struggled to find recipes her father would enjoy as he battled cancer nine years ago, so she decided to take matters into her own hands, creating meals featuring cancer-fighting ingredients and bold flavors. Soon after, Rebecca founded Inner Cook, a San Francisco-based culinary practice that helps cancer patients meet their nutritional needs. "Teaching cancer patients and their families how to get to the 'yum' can spell the difference between keeping the appetite engaged and losing interest in eating," Rebecca says.

A perfect fit

When Melissa Curiale went shopping after her lumpectomy in 2007, the 31-year-old wanted pretty, up-to-date dresses and tops that would help hide the unevenness in her breasts post surgery. What she found were matronly things sold in breast cancer shops in hospitals. "So many of the boutiques did not have a sense of style," Melissa says.

Enter Hilary Boyajian, 33, a New York designer who's committed to creating stylish clothes for women with breast cancer. With fashions that range from cocktail dresses and office wear to lacy bras and beach-worthy bikinis, Hilary cleverly uses ruffles, draping and other fabric tricks to camouflage the asymmetry that follows breast cancer surgery. The soft, sexy styles are showcased in her clothing line, Chikara (

"My family has been hit by breast cancer just like millions of other families. Everyone knows someone," says Hilary, who lost her own grandmother to the disease. But the choices for women who undergo mastectomies or other kinds of breast surgery are painfully limited, and wearing prosthetics—usually silicone forms that slip into one or both bra cups—is often the only option for women who choose not to undergo reconstruction.

Hilary had another idea, and began hammering out a business plan for her new clothing line as part of her thesis at Parsons The New School for Design. By graduation, she was working in her apartment with a patternmaker and contacting vendors in the garment district, even having a one-breasted mannequin custom made. Based on her philosophy of using lovely embellishments to create dimension and draw the eye to details, Hilary came up with four basic pieces, and Chikara was born. Prices range from about $80 to $180, and 10 percent of all sales go to the Greater New York City Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

And Melissa Curiale, who now owns some of Hilary's designs, is having some beautiful moments, too. "I feel confident because the clothes look great," Melissa says. "These are clothes I would have worn five years ago, before the cancer ever happened."
Laurie Herr

Wine for a cure
After Budge Brown's wife Arlene died of breast cancer in 2005, he wanted to do something to help find a cure for the disease. Using his experience as a grape-grower, Budge bought a vineyard and, in 2007, produced the first of his now-annual batches of Cleavage Creek wines. Each bottle from the winery bears a photo of a woman who has used her own breast cancer diagnosis to make positive changes in her life. "When you give someone an ounce of hope and inspiration, you give them a reason to fight to live," says Budge.

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