"It's like Christmas in here," I said looking across the River Oaks Country Club ballroom as the young cancer survivors giddily opened gifts from their sponsors and received the news that the outfits they were modeling on this day would be theirs to take home.
"It is Christmas," declared 16-year-old Tacey Raulerson, the young lady that my husband, Shafik Rifaat, and I would soon escort down the catwalk at the Texas Children's Cancer Center Celebration of Champions.
Tacey lost her vision to cancer at age 7. This past year, she was diagnosed with a rare cancer in her sinuses and she recently completed six months of chemotherapy and radiation. Her hair is just starting to grow back. From the beginning, Tacey and her mother have regularly made the drive from home in College Station to Texas Children's Cancer Center.
We got to know her before the luncheon as patients, their families and runway escorts gathered early for time together as well as hair and make-up styling — the latter a particular joy for Tacey, who was all over the false eyelashes.
Tacey was ready to go in her blue lace dress and fancy earrings from Dillard's. It was homecoming weekend and she would wear the dress for the Friday night activities in which she would represent her sophomore class.
Her indomitable spirit, her joy at the gift that we gave her and her glowing confidence as we climbed the stairs backstage and walked the runway touched not only my husband and I, but also everyone in the room.
Of course, Tacey was only one of 20 Texas Children's cancer survivors to participate in the fundraiser. But even as the little boys and girls and toddlers stole everyone's heart, it was Tacey who showed the audience amazing bravery and resilience in the face of a ruthless disease.
It was an SRO crowd that packed the ballroom and that cheered and clapped for the children, each escorted by community leaders. None could have been more proud on this day than Celebration of Champions founders Scott Basinger, Sidney Faust, Elsie Eckert and Judi McGee.
All four shared the joy with the participants in the pre-function room as did Lenny Matuszewski and Tamara Klosz-Bonar, who orchestrated the fashion show that included outfits from Saks Fifth Avenue for the adults.
Honored to be sharing the day with the young cancer survivors were Barbara Lowrie and Henry Brooks, Jo Lynn and Gregg Falgout, Doe and Henry Florsheim, Mary and Tony Gracely, Nancy Calles and Dr. Mark Kline, Barbara and Ulyesse LeGrange, Penny and Paul Loyd, Rahul Mehta, Alicia and Lance Smith, Tiffany and Rick Smith, Elizabeth and Alan Stein, Betty and Jesse Tutor and Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff.