PENINSULA WOMAN: Shop owners put fashion to work for cancer support group

PORT ANGELES — For weeks now, it’s been marathon meets roller-coaster for these two women.

Janee Lyster and Marilyn Lamb run their own businesses while caring for parents, kids and spouses. In the past year, both have expanded their shops’ offerings.

And Lyster, 36, and Lamb, 47, have gone through one of the more harrowing experiences a daughter can face: their mothers’ cancer diagnoses.

Lyster’s mom, Virginia Southmayd, learned she had stage-four breast cancer three years ago, not long after Lyster had her first child, Jacob.

“It was a terrifying time for our family,” Lyster said. She took her mom to Seattle for surgery, and then saw her through radiation treatments and chemotherapy at Olympic Medical Cancer Center in Sequim.

Southmayd is doing well these days, and is busy spreading the word about Lyster’s big project: this Saturday’s Runway for Awareness, a fashion show and party to benefit Operation Uplift, the Olympic Peninsula’s all-volunteer support organization for cancer patients and survivors.

“I am so proud of Janee for doing this event,” Southmayd said.

Lyster and Lamb grew up in Port Angeles, and for a while now, they have wanted to put together something to build community.

“I had always thought it would be fun to be involved in a fashion show,” said Lyster, who’s owned Sassy Kat Salon in Port Angeles for six years.

Having added a clothing boutique to her salon on Eighth Street, she could have just joined someone else’s fall fashion showcase.

Instead, she and Lamb, who owns Cottage Queen and Teenie Queenie in downtown Port Angeles, are putting on the show.

This meant they had to cold-call all manner of business people, to ask for donations to the Runway for Awareness silent auction and find a caterer, a DJ, decorations and a place to have the party.

The women well know what it’s like to be asked for donations. Port Angeles is full of worthy nonprofits, and the summer-to-fall calendar is loaded with fundraisers. Again, Lamb and Lyster could have talked themselves out of taking on this task.

But “it’s time to give back” to her hometown, Lyster said.

“I never had the drive until my mom got cancer.”

Lamb is equally determined. Her mother, Jean Jackson of Sequim, received her breast cancer diagnosis four years ago.

Tough time

“It’s a tough thing to watch your mother go through,” said Lamb. Like Lyster, she praises the support Operation Uplift provides for women and their families as they heal.

And like Southmayd, Jackson is doing fine now.

Lamb, who specializes in retro clothing and lingerie, knew a fashion show would be good exposure for her two shops. But “I didn’t want to do it just for business,” she said.

Instead, she wanted to raise money for a cause.

Lamb and Lyster contacted Belva Bodey at Black Diamond Bridal and Roy and Mary Gotham of The Toggery, and Runway blossomed. In the course of the evening, dozens of models will show off casual, dressy and ultraformal looks, plus some lingerie.

At the same time, the women have been gathering gifts for the silent auction. Local and regional companies have donated weekend getaways to Victoria, guided fishing, kayaking and rafting trips, even acupuncture treatments. Lyster started her hunt back in July; by last week, she’d accumulated more than 50 contributions.

“I get really emotional and excited talking to people on the phone,” Lyster admitted.

A lot of ‘no’

All of that asking was far from easy. There was a lot of “no.”

After a long string of turndowns, you can get discouraged, added Lamb. But then someone tells you he wants to donate his time to light up your event.

“Andrew May is decorating for us,” Lyster said with a wide smile. May, a gardening expert and columnist for the Peninsula Daily News, builds lavish light sculptures on and in commercial buildings from Chicago to Port Angeles, and is known for his joie de vivre when it comes to parties.

“To me, that’s like Oprah showing up,” Lyster added. “We just called him up out of the blue.”

May said he’ll use a canopy of lights to transform the Vern Burton Community Center — and he won’t be charging for his services.

“That really helped us, meeting with him,” said Lamb. “We had been so stressed.”

The women landed a pair of sponsors, too, in 7 Cedars Casino and Sterling Savings Bank, and they booked DJ Scott Sullivan for the fashion-show soundtrack, catered appetizers from Smuggler’s Landing and Rick’s Place and bar service from Michael’s Divine Dining.

Yet as she canvassed Clallam County for donations, Lyster found people who knew almost nothing about Operation Uplift and its free offerings for women coping with cancer.

“We’re a place you can go an unwind,” said board member Char Fink. “We have a support group for any cancer survivor, or anybody who’s going through it right now. And we match people up with someone who’s gone through their type of cancer.” Operation Uplift also provides wigs short and long, scarves, hats, prostheses and bras of all sizes, Fink added.

Throughout the planning of Saturday’s party, Lyster has learned how much she can accomplish by reaching out to other business people.

“The good thing about this is that I’m meeting new people,” she said.

Tickets prices low

As for the event itself, “my personal goal, and Marilyn’s too, is to keep ticket prices down, so people can come and have fun . . . and most important, to raise awareness for Operation Uplift.”

Lamb, for her part, has been involved with the Mad Hatter’s Tea, held every October in Sequim to benefit Olympic Medical Cancer Center support groups and Family Planning of Clallam County’s low-cost cancer screenings. Now that she and her husband of 30 years, Jerry Lamb, have raised their son, Brandon, Lamb is eager to expand her activities on the community front.

“I’m a worker bee,” Lamb said. “I want to be involved in charity work,” above and beyond running her two boutiques.

“I thought I couldn’t handle it,” Lyster admitted. “My plate’s been full,” with running Sassy Kat, caring for her son Jacob, 4, and daughter London, 21 months, plus time spent helping her husband Lyle Lyster Jr. with his excavating business. “But I’m handling it,” she said.

And this Saturday’s Runway for Awareness won’t be it for Lyster. She hopes others will consider joining her in planning another.

“My husband thinks I’m crazy,” Lyster said. But “I hope we can do this every year.”

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