Cancer Survivor Stacy Sells Rocks Runway in Fashion Fundraiser

Spend a few minutes with Stacy Sells and her oldest daughter Allyson Pittman and one thing is clear: the two are closer than close. They finish each other’s sentences, laugh at each other’s comments, revel in each other’s successes and bear each other’s pain.

They also share a passion for community involvement. It’s this passion that led to their pairing as Honorary Co-Chair and Co-Chair, respectively, of Rock the Runway, a high-fashion runway show on June 20 benefitting UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute (WRCI) and local nonprofit Fighting Fancy.

Actually, the pair’s connection with such an event goes back to the day in February 2010 when Stacy phoned Allyson to tell her she had been diagnosed with stage III-B inflammatory breast cancer. Allyson was in her last semester at University of Missouri, more than 370 miles away.

“So, I’m standing in Walgreens and my phone rings and Mom says ‘yeah, I really hate to tell you this over the phone but I have cancer. OK, got a meeting! Call you later!’ So typical,” Allyson recalls, laughing. “My very first thought was ‘What do I do? Do I go home? How can I not take the semester off and go home?’”

“And I told her, ‘Heck no, you’re not coming home. We’ve worked too hard to get you to graduation,’” says Stacy. “She needed to stay put and finish school. And she did. But it was hard on her not being with me while I was sick.”

“My heart grieved for her and I tried to listen and ‘be’ there as much as possible, but being there physically was not an option,” says Allyson. “I felt like missed it all — the surgery, the chemo, the hair loss, everything. But I knew that despite my absence, some day I would be able to use my talents and honor everything she went through.”

That opportunity came quickly. After graduation, Allyson moved to St. Louis. She dove right in to community service, getting involved in a variety of young professionals groups. In early 2011, she came up with the idea of a runway show to benefit a local women’s cancer institute. She managed to secure funding and, months later, she and her committee hosted “a high-energy fashion show that not only brought awareness to our cause, but also gave seven survivors the opportunity to walk in a runway show and give new meaning to the word survivor.”

The Perfect Storm

In June 2012, Allyson returned to Little Rock. About the same time, Stacy was asked to join the UAMS Rockefeller Cancer Institute Foundation Board, where she joined the efforts to raise a $3.5 million endowment to improve and expand patient services through the Patient & Family Services Fund. Among other things, the fund provides for support groups, self-image workshops, wigs and hats, physical fitness classes and financial counseling to cancer patients.

“A cancer diagnosis can feel bleak,” notes Harriet Farley, social work manager at WRCI, “but patients and their families need to know they don’t have to face cancer alone. If we can help restore hope and create greater comfort, a patient’s spirit, mind and body are better cared for.”

“I’ve been totally in awe of the commitment by the UAMS Cancer Institute team to treat the whole person, not just the cancer,” says Stacy. “And they also believe in treating the whole family, because cancer touches the lives of not only patients, but also their families and loved ones. Nothing is more important to UAMS, the foundation board and the hundreds of volunteers than to deliver the very best care to the patients who come to UAMS for their cancer treatment.”

When Brenda Scisson, executive director of the WRCI Foundation, learned about Allyson’s St. Louis fashion show from Stacy, she reached out to Allyson to see if she would consider doing a similar show to raise money for the Patient & Family Services Fund.

“When she said she would, I felt like turning somersaults I was so pleased,” says Brenda. “It got even better when we learned that Heather Mason Owens was already considering doing a similar show for [her nonprofit] Fighting Fancy.”

Rock the Runway is Born

When Allyson, the daughter of a breast cancer survivor, and Heather, a breast cancer survivor herself, met, they knew immediately that a great partnership was possible. Armed with a passion for fashion and a heart for WRCI, the two pulled together a committee to launch Rock the Runway.

Stacy signed on to be honorary chair and took the lead on soliciting sponsorships. It was agreed that the proceeds from the event would split evenly to benefit the UAMS Cancer Institute, which will use its portion to enhance its programs for women with cancer, and Fighting Fancy, which will provide gift bags of personal care products for women who are being treated for cancer by a UAMS physician, in addition to other women experiencing cancer around the world.

“Witnessing Allyson and Stacy working together provides me much joy and is a perfect example of mother-daughter love and respect,” says Brenda. “They are both immensely talented, creative and passionate about fighting cancer and helping UAMS. Stacy is the perfect mentor, and Allyson is her perfect protégé. Allyson is the third generation Sells family member that I’ve worked with — her granddad, her mother (and uncle) and now her. This is one great Arkansas family!”

Stacy is understandably proud of her daughter, and she’s equally excited about the event. “It’s going to be a great evening,” she says. “All the best local boutiques are participating, from Scarlet and B.Barnett to Vesta’s and Companions. Each boutique is featuring one brand. For example, Dillard’s will show styles from Nicole Miller, while Proposals will show Monique Lhuillier. In addition to professional models, a cancer survivor will walk the runway in a signature look from each boutique. It’s going to be an amazing show of strength and survival.”

Rock the Runway will be held June 20 at 1620 Savoy. The evening begins at 6:30 with a VIP reception. The runway show starts at 8 p.m., followed by an after-party at 9:30 p.m. Emcees for the evening are Beth Hunt and Anthony Lucas. Little Rock Soirée is the presenting sponsor.

For Stacy, it’s an honor to be a part of the event, and not just because Allyson is chairing it. “I’m an extraordinarily grateful patient of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, which saved my life,” she says. “Three years ago, my medical team told me I had a fight on my hands, but it was that same team that held my hand throughout every phase of the battle. Today, even with life interrupted, I’m tough as a nickel steak and a fearless survivor. They continue to hold my hand, and help me redirect my journey from one of illness to a new direction of wellness. I love this place, and I’m sure it shows.”

What defines patient and family services at UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute?

Here are a few things that will be funded with proceeds from Rock the Runway:

• Three oncology social workers to serve patients and caregivers through the duration of treatment, helping them access the many support services and complementary therapies available and cope with the many emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis.

• Oncology massages for those who might find improved relaxation and sleep, as well as relief from anxiety, pain, fatigue and nausea.  

• Educational support and materials addressing the emotional adjustments of children whose parents have cancer.  

• Financial assistance for low-cost housing at the UAMS Family Home or nearby hotels, gas cards for transportation, and grocery cards for food.

• Other therapies that support mind-body connections, like visualization and meditation, and more ancillary services, including nutrition counseling, chaplaincy services and physical and occupation therapy post-surgery. 

Rock the Runway
When: 6:30 p.m., Thursday, June 20 | Where: 1620 Savoy, Little Rock
Tickets: $100 VIP, $50 general admission | Info: 590-7657 or

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