Before a crowd of hundreds Friday at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, Santa Rosa City Council member Ernesto Olivares told his wife Rita’s breast cancer story.

It was March 2016. She had gone in for a routine mammogram when, several days later, they got a call from the doctor’s office saying a second exam was needed.

“They said there was something they weren’t sure about,” Olivares said before a crowd gathered for the 15th Catwalk for a Cure fashion show and luncheon, a popular annual event that raises money for Sutter Santa Rosa cancer screenings and support services.

So Rita went back for another test. A few days later they got another phone call from the doctor’s office.

“They said, ‘We need you to come in to talk about your results,’ ” he said.

Again, they went in, trying to stay positive.

But there it was, the outcome they dreaded: It was cancer.

“When they told us that, it was like a kick in the stomach for us,” he said.

Rita is now cancer free, and Friday walked the runway alongside a dozen other women, as a survivor, to the sounds of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” — the crowd whooping and hollering as each woman passed by.

The annual fundraiser features cancer survivors, firefighters and community leaders modeling finery loaned out by local boutiques.

The event this year had a very south Florida vibe with a “Flock Cancer” theme that featured hordes of hot pink lawn flamingos, banana leaf decorations and women running around in over-the-top Carmen Miranda show girl headdresses.

An estimate for the amount of money raised wasn’t available, but organizer Sukie Gill said that last year’s event pulled in about $290,000.

This was the first year two-time breast cancer survivor Sandy Throne walked the runway.

Her long hair curled, and makeup done, the 66-year-old Santa Rosa resident proudly modeled a fitted and glittering midnight blue dress, loaned out by Starlet Bridal for the event.

She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 through a mammogram. She had a lumpectomy and radiation, and all was well until 2011 when her doctor found another lump in the same breast.

“Which was not supposed to happen,” Throne said. “It was a year and a half of hell because I was very sick, but now my life is great because I appreciate every day.”

She’d been to Catwalk for a Cure before as an attendee, but this year when organizers found out she was a two-time survivor, they invited her to be a model. Now 24 years — and 6 years — cancer free, she agreed.

“It’s just a wonderful event,” she said. “I think it’s so important.”

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @SeaWarren.

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