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Inspiring Cancer Survivors from Soledad Unite at Celebration of Life Fashion Show

SOLEDAD — This year signifies a significant 30-year milestone for the American Cancer Society’s annual Celebration of Life Fashion Show in which local cancer survivors grace the runway as models, sharing their cancer journey to inspire others and raise community awareness.

Scheduled for Friday, April 12, in Monterey, this distinctive fundraiser commemorates the founders, Shirley Lavorato, Karen Fanoe, and Jeri Olivas, while honoring cancer survivors, remembering those who have passed, and acknowledging the remarkable impact of the fundraiser in supporting cancer patients and their families within the community.

Among the participants this year, two women walking the runway have a unique connection as fraternal twins.

At the tender age of 27, the sisters from Soledad found themselves facing a shared cancer diagnosis. Araceli and Angelica Villegas underwent intensive and potentially life-saving treatments upon discovering they had breast cancer and were carriers of the BRAC1 gene.

Their journey commenced last year when Araceli, while breastfeeding her youngest son, noticed a suspicious lump. Initially dismissing it as a milk duct issue, further tests revealed a grim reality.

“When I first heard the word cancer, my immediate thought was that I wouldn’t survive,” shared Araceli Villegas, a model for the Celebration of Life event. “Upon learning about the hereditary nature of the BRAC gene, I knew my sister needed to be tested too.”

Despite Angelica showing no visible symptoms, her breast cancer was found to be at an even more advanced stage. Both sisters underwent medical interventions at the Salinas Valley Health Cancer Center of Excellence, including chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and a double mastectomy.

Celebration of Life Fashion ShowLocal cancer survivors showcase their resilience on the runway during the grand finale of the 2023 Fashion Show. (Contributed)

The Villegas twins bravely share their challenging cancer journey to raise awareness about the disease, stress the importance of early detection, and emphasize the significance of paying attention to one’s body when something feels amiss. Alongside two dozen other local cancer survivors, they will be part of the 30-year celebration on Friday.

“The American Cancer Society has been a tremendous source of support for us and countless other cancer patients,” expressed Angelica Villegas. “Our aim is to give back and inspire others to rally behind the cause and recognize the profound impact the Cancer Society has on the community, cancer research, and patients like us.”

The 30-year anniversary coincides with the American Cancer Society’s projection of over 2 million new cancer diagnoses in the United States in 2024 — a record high. National data over the years has indicated a rising trend in diagnosis rates among individuals under 50, with an increase of nearly 13% from 2000 to 2019 in this age group.

Since its establishment, the gala event has raised more than $2 million. With the support of generous sponsors, local businesses, and individuals, the Celebration of Life aims to raise additional funds and awareness during Friday’s event, scheduled from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Monterey Marriott.

While the show is completely booked, the community still has the opportunity to contribute through donations and bidding on auction items. For further details, visit the website or contact 831-621-5444.