Walking the runway for a Cure

SPR columnist Tom Cardella joined seven other colon cancer survivors and caregivers for the Get Your Rear in Gear Philadelphia kickoff event

Tom Cardella made his fashion show debut wearing a Ralph Lauren ultrafit sports jacket, with dress shirt by Polo and slacks by Tommy Hilfiger. Photo provided by Bonnie Lay Grant

By Bill Gelman

Longtime South Philly Review columnist Tom Cardella has no plans on switching gears and starting a weekly fashion column. Nor did he ever expect to spend a March evening walking the runway at the Get Your Rear in Gear Philadelphia’s Runway for a Cure event that took place on Thursday, March 15 at the Hilton Penn’s Landing. Cardella along with the seven other models were outfitted by Macy’s and styled by Richel D’Ambra Salon & Spa. Add Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” as background music, and the stage was set for a night to remember.

“I was frightened at first, but it turned out to be a terrific experience,” Cardella, who is a stage 3 colon cancer survivor, said. “Funny is it really came out of the blue.”

He was nominated to model by his Thomas Jefferson University Hospital treating physicians Drs. Edith Mitchell and Scott Goldstein. Cardella was diagnosed in 2015 with stage 3 colon cancer.

“The Runway for a Cure event was a wonderful and impactful event for the participants, their family members and our partners. It was an inspiration to have colon cancer warriors and caregivers share their stories,” Maria Grasso, executive director and founder of Get Your Rear in Gear Philadelphia, said. “It was also educational, as the stories told of a misdiagnosis, and unrelenting battles and successes in overcoming the disease.”

In terms of the cancer, Cardella said he didn’t find out he had stage 3 colon cancer until after his surgery in July 2015. The tumor was perfectly positioned for removal, and Cardella, who also received a kidney transplant from his wife, Fran Cardella, nine years ago, said he was very confident of beating the disease. But following the surgery, the words stage 3 and 12 rounds of chemo presented a temporary scare. He completed the treatment at the end of January 2016. Some may recall previous columns during his road to recovery.

“It was a very emotional thing, but like the transplant, I put it in the back of my mind,” he said.

Fast-forward to present day, and Cardella is at the point where he only needs to see his oncologist twice a year.

Grasso, who resides in Mount Laurel, N.J., started the Get Your Rear in Gear Philadelphia organization in 2009 following the painful loss of her father and grandfather to the disease. The main event, Get Your Rear in Gear Philadelphia, is taking place on Saturday, March 24 at Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park. It features a 4-mile run, 2-mile walk and kids fun run. This year marks its 10th anniversary, and it is expected to welcome thousands of participants, many of whom have been impacted by colon cancer. March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths with more than 50,000 dying from it every year in the U.S. All of funds raised from the event stay in the Philadelphia region for education, research, treatment and patient care. Grasso noted she is humbled and amazed by the level of growth the event has seen over the past decade.

“I started this with 1,000 runners and a handful of supporters, and since then we have raised more than $2 million,” she said. “It has shown me that people touched by colon cancer have a voice and a passion to spread the message that screenings and early detection do save lives.”

The fashion show served as the kickoff event.

Cardella and the seven other models started the day as complete strangers, but as the evening went on, colon cancer ended up being a common bond that brought them closer together. Each of their stories was different, including Philadelphia resident Charlene Willis who lost her daughter, Marketa Frazier, to the disease at age 21. Being a survivor, and the one who has gone the longest since surgery and treatments, Cardella, before the night was over, shared a positive message with his new friends.

“I was able to reassure them that they would and could survive,” Cardella said.

Grasso purchased all of the outfits for the models so they could keep them. Cardella now has a sharp looking Ralph Lauren ultrafit sports jacket, with dress shirt by Polo and slacks by Tommy Hilfiger added to his regular wardrobe. Who knows, this fashion show could become an annual routine for the Cardella family.

The Cardella Family

For more information about Saturday’s Get Your Rear in Gear Philadelphia event, including registration or donations, visit join.coloncancercoalition.org.