The Heroes of 'An Unforgettable Evening' Gala Talk Breast Cancer Research and Changing Lives
The Women's Cancer Research Gala is one of the most star-studded and impactful charity events of the year, and last night, March 16, An Unforgettable Evening raised a whopping $2 million to benefit the Women's Cancer Research Fund, a program of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Breast cancer is an incredibly complex disease, but with the continued research and investment in science from incredible groups like the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, outcomes are continually getting better for those diagnosed. For more than two decades, the annual event has brought leaders in research and philanthropy together with Hollywood's biggest stars to raise awareness and financial support, and last night's event was particularly special.
That's because our own host and producer Sienna Leone was in attendance on the pink carpet, joined by her mom (and best friend) Gaby Leone, herself a breast cancer survivor in recovery. There, she spoke with stars such as The Real Housewives of Atlanta alum Cynthia Bailey and fashion icon Rachel Zoe, as well as top doctors and philanthropists, including Breast Cancer Research Foundation president and CEO Myra Biblowit, and Unsung Hero Award winners Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson and Richard J. Stephenson, who were recognized for their incredible contributions to breast cancer philanthropy. For the full scoop, read her interviews with them below.
(Photo credit: Gaby Leone)
Sienna Leone: This is something I hold close to my heart, because my mother, who I brought with me tonight, is recovering from breast cancer.
Myra Biblowit: Well, you look pretty darn good! And that is the power of research, that you are standing here.
SL: She said exactly that—if it wasn't for people like you and an organization like this, she wouldn't be here today, so thank you.
MB: At the end of the day, it is only research that's going to consign breast cancer to the history books.
Gaby Leone: I'm that 5% that chemo didn't work for. My oncologist said that breast cancer is the most researched cancer, but your type of cancer, we have no research for. Since chemo didn't work, they didn't know how to handle it, so they took my case to rounds and had the oncologists and surgeons figure out what to do with me.
SL: For young women like me, in their early 20s, it is so important to get checked. What do you say about that?
MB: You know, all of the guidelines say 40, but if there is this kind of family history, surveillance is what's going to make a difference.
SL: Lastly, what does this event mean to you?
MB: This is about people who are committed, coming together, using their celebrity and using their networks for good—and that's a very wonderful thing.
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SL: I overheard that you turned 56 recently. What is your secret? Because, wow!
Cynthia Bailey: I will say it's just such a blessing to actually live to see 56. For me, this birthday was just kind of quiet. I was thinking, oh, I should do a big photo shoot or should do this and that, but I really found myself in a space with everything that I've been just going through—I'm recently divorced, and my mom is actually a breast cancer survivor, which is why I'm excited to be here tonight and be a part of the committee. I just wanted to chill and take it all in.
SL: Whatever you're doing, keep doing it because you look amazing! And you've always been a woman's health advocate, so thank you for using your platform. Tell me a little bit about your involvement tonight.
CB: My mom is on the other side of cancer—thank God—but when you're in it with a breast cancer patient, you're always wondering if everything gonna be okay. You're constantly stressed out. And one of the things that I learned going through this breast cancer journey with her is how it affected her mental wellness. From the time she got diagnosed, she went right into this dark place of, "Oh my God, I'm gonna die." She just wasn't optimistic, and I found myself not only going back to Lake Bailey in Atlanta to make sure I could take her to her appointments, but also kind of being a cheerleader for her—like, "You got this. You're gonna be great." I think a lot of time, people don't realize what a toll it takes on you mentally. That's something I've been talking about a lot, just sharing my experience with my mom's breast cancer.
SL: What a blessing it is that mother is alive and on the other side. We are so lucky. But you know, for young women like me, I think it's super important to get on top of it early. Any advice for young women and anyone dealing with breast cancer?
CB: Women, in general, should make sure you get your annual mammograms. That's how my mom detected her cancer, and it's something that I try to stay on top of. I have a very busy life and schedule, but as I get older—I just turned 56—health has definitely been a big focus and a priority for me. It's really important to me to use my platform to keep those conversations going and encourage women to take care of themselves. I find that a lot of women, especially entrepreneurs, can get so caught up in work that we put our health to the side, but you can't work if you're not well.
SL: And I think people don't understand how much the stress can add on to being sick. That being said, how stress-free are you now that you're out of Real Housewives of Atlanta?
CB: (Laughs) I have less stress! I have to say that I do miss playing with the girls from time to time, so I've been fortunate enough to be in a position to pop in and out, hanging out in Atlanta a little bit more. I go and support the ladies, and that's been really really great for me. My acting career is still my focus, but I have to say I do like hanging out with the girls and finding out what their drama is, and not really having to talk about mine. Right now I'm drama-free!
SL: In terms of your acting career, what can we stay tuned for?
CB: I have a couple of movies that are out right now on BET+, and I'm actually leaving here tonight on the red eye to go shoot a TV series called Black Mafia Family. It's happening! It's only been almost a year now since I've been focused on my acting career and I'm so grateful that I've been able to transition from reality TV to acting because it's not easy. It's important to me to do the work and get earn the respect of the other actors that have been in the game for years.
(Photo credit: Gaby Leone)
Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson and Richard J. Stephenson
SL: Tell me about receiving the Unsung Hero Award tonight!
Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson: This is an incredible honor for an incredible cause. This award is not about us—it is about every single human being in this room who is contributing to the energy to eradicate this dreaded disease. That is why we're here. We're here for everyone else. We're just singing it from the mountaintops.
SL: What is your best advice for young women like me to stay on top of it and make sure we stay healthy?
SJS: For young women like you, you want to pay close, close attention to your diet. It sounds like everything your mom told you, but it's true. Lower inflammatory diets and following nutrition. Vitamin D is well-researched, as are many other nutrients. Believe it or not, exercise and fitness are critical—it is like an elixir to your immune system. Also surveillance for cancer cells. Your fitness, what you put your mouth and how you engage in your relationships and your community—your spiritual health—are critical. You put a little bit of all of those together, and you're healthy!
Richard J. Stephenson: And you get the book Vibrant, which is the top-selling book on this subject, written by Stacie Stephenson.
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SL: You're an icon! I grew up in a fashion family, so looking at you as a powerhouse house, so much love and respect. Tell me why you're here tonight.
RZ: I would never not be here. It's so important to show up, and my family is plagued with breast cancer. I have countless friends with breast cancer under the age of 40. It just goes on and on, and we can't cure it fully yet, and if you don't have early detection, it's really hard. If we don't keep doing the work, and during the research, and doing nights like tonight, it's never gonna go away. But it has to go away. For our children, it has to go.
SH: I give you so many thanks for using your platform for this cause. I appreciate you and these people, like Sharon Stone, who won the Courage Award tonight. I know you two go way back. Tell me why you think she's the perfect person for this award.
RZ: Sharon is fearless. She's a champion. There's no voice louder than hers and she uses that for good. She has an energy and a passion that is unparalleled. I think her work for amfAR is just indescribable. She's here tonight, and she's loud—in a good way, and for a good reason. She's incredibly beautiful and she clearly has a heart—a huge one.
(Photo credit: Gaby Leone)
SH: You all do, using your platforms for these great causes. What's one trend right now that you're loving, and one that needs to go?
RZ: One trend I'm loving that I've always done since I was 13 is massive platform shoes. They obviously make me happy. For that second part, I don't really believe in that anymore. I feel like fashion is such a form of personal self-expression, and I think the world we're living in now is very accepting and inclusive of everyone's style. I feel like the days of dos and don'ts are gone.
SH: And what's next for you?
RZ: I have a podcast out now that people seem to be loving called Climbing in Heels. I have my women's curation subscription business called Curateur, which I love. I have a lot of licenses and partnerships that I design for. I'm working on a new TV show. So, we'll see!
(Photo credit: Gaby Leone)
Curious about Sienna gets ready for a huge event? Check out her Get Ready With Me story for the 80th Annual Golden Globes HERE.