At the open of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s inaugural virtual Hot Pink Evening, the event’s lead co-chair Kinga Lampert reminded attendees that “breast cancer doesn’t stop for coronavirus and neither can we.” And, though the BCRF’s annual fundraiser looked significantly different amid the pandemic, the show did in fact go on, raising more than $5.2 million for breast cancer research.
Elton John, Elizabeth Hurley, Karlie Kloss, Deborah Norville and Rachael Ray were among the BCRF supporters who participated in the livestream event, with breast cancer survivors Edie Falco, Joan Lunden, Gretta Monahan, Amy Robach and Anne Thompson sharing their own experiences battling the disease.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy — to have a doctor stand opposite you and tell you that you have cancer,” Falco said.
Professional ballet dancer Maggie Kudirka, who is currently battling stage IV metastatic breast cancer, also highlighted how the pandemic has created further challenges for cancer patients.
“Since the COVID crisis occurred, cancer patients got a new, new normal,” Kudirka said. “Our support system and loved ones are no longer allowed to come with us to treatments and doctor’s appointments. We have to keep our distance from everyone because of our immune system. We have to wear extra protective gear, but we still need our treatments and we are still figuring it out. We as a community are in uncharted waters.”
“I’m Mandy Gonzalez, and I am a breast cancer survivor. But I am so much more. I’m a mother. I’m a wife. I’m an actor. I’m a daughter, I’m a sister, I’m a friend, and I’m the founder of the Fearless Squad,” Gonzalez said, introducing herself on the livestream. “When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in November, my world turned upside down. I didn’t know how I would get through it. But with the support of my community — many who are here today — I learned that we can not only survive breast cancer, but we can thrive. It was always important to me to not let cancer define me or stop me. So, during chemo, I had the privilege to continue my job … eight shows a week. And I would never have been able to get through that if it wasn’t for my community.”
Gonzalez performed a stirring rendition of “Breathe” from “In The Heights” (a song which she’d originated in the Broadway production) alongside a virtually assembled company that included the show’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and fellow original cast members Andrea Burns, Janet Dacal.
More of Gonzalez’s friends joined in the musical tribute, with Laura Benanti dedicating her performance of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from “Carousel” to Gonzalez, calling her the “bravest, kindest and most selfless person” she knows. “In the Heights” and “Hamilton” director Thomas Kail introduced an ensemble performance of “Lean on Me,” featuring Tituss Burgess, Sierra Boggess, Joanna Jones and James Monroe Iglehart.
Additional musical numbers included Norbert Leo Butz singing “Something Coming” from “West Side Story” opposite moving visuals of a shutdown New York City, and a finale performance of “We Are Family” by cancer survivor Nile Rodgers and Chic, with the BCRF’s organizers and participants dancing along in virtual celebration.