NEW YORK CITY — Darla Rodgers remembers the day in May 2014 when she found out she had Stage IVB colon cancer. It was Mother’s Day.
Instead of going to brunch with her spouse’s parents as planned, Rodgers went to the emergency room. The surgeon, in tears, told her she was probably going to die.
But Rodgers never gave up. Almost four years later, and after repeated radiation treatments and chemotherapy sessions, the Ogden resident is still alive and living what she describes as her "best life."
On Saturday, Rodgers and more than a dozen other cancer survivors from around the country strutted the stage of the SMGlobal Catwalk at the Watson Hotel in New York City. The “Surviving in Fashion” showcase was part of New York Fashion Week, which runs from Feb. 8-16.
In an emailed statement, SMGlobal Catwalk President Samina Mughal described the event as “a favorite for attendees” and “a beautiful chance for cancer patients to enjoy a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Rodgers was able to participate in the catwalk through Say YES! to Hope, an organization that provides support, resources and activities for people diagnosed with life-threatening forms of cancer.
Rodgers was introduced to Say YES’s founder, Suzanne Lindley, in 2016 by a friend who died due to cancer soon after. Lindley, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1998, told KSL.com the organization was started to “show that people can live with advanced cancer and not necessarily have to die from it.”
Lindley described Rodgers as a strong and courageous person and “the most dynamic person I have ever met in my life.”
When Rodgers came to a Say YES! retreat for the first time, Lindley described her as being “down in the dumps” and not knowing what to expect with her cancer treatment.
“In two years, I have watched her blossom into where every breath is a breath of life,” Lindley said. “She walks into a room and she just sparkles. It is absolutely amazing to watch her face light up.”
Rodgers described Lindley as her best friend, and said getting involved with Say YES!, an organization with thousands of participants throughout the country, has totally changed her perspective on life after cancer diagnosis.
“We all just have such a wonderful time,” Rodgers said. “It’s a great bonding period for us, you know? It’s hard to talk about colon cancer, nobody wants to talk about colon cancer. Or liver cancer, or any cancer, for that matter.”
Modeling in New York City was an unforgettable experience, Rodgers said.
“We all felt like glamor princesses and Cinderellas for the day,” she said. “We got treated like queens and got our hair and makeup professionally done.”
Rodgers and other cancer survivors involved with Say YES! also got a chance to go sightseeing in the Big Apple, she said.
Lindley said Say YES! to Hope has about 12 volunteers who help with hotlines that provide information and support for those with cancer. Additionally, the group hosts a variety of events, including watch parties for the Oscars and Emmys, as well as an annual retreat in Texas, where Lindley lives.
“You would think there would be people lining up to do it (participate in Say YES!),” Lindley said, “but when you have stage IV cancer you, one, have a diminished amount of energy, and you don’t always have the finances to hop on a plane and get to where we’re at.”
Less than 5 percent of cancer research funding goes toward researching forms of advanced cancer, Lindley said. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 595,690 people died from the disease in 2016.
“We need more research for advanced cancers,” Lindley said, adding that treatment should be multidisciplinary and involve a supportive group of people, including an interventional oncologist, a radiation oncologist, a surgical oncologist and a patient navigator.
While Rodgers enjoyed the lights and excitement of New York, the cancer survivor said she is most happy about being able to show others that her life matters, and is far from over.
“It’s just wonderful to be able to show people that we’re not dying with cancer,” Rodgers said. “We’re living with it. And we’re living our best lives.”
People can reach the Say YES! toll-free survivor line at 877-937-7478.