Local girl to model at cancer survivors fashion show

Keira Kelley
Keira Kelly

Keira Kelly has always loved fashion.

In fact, the 10-year-old was a model before being diagnosed with leukemia in 2010. Now, for the first time since her recovery, she’ll be back on the runway this May in the Gilda’s Club Surviving with Style Fashion Show.

“I’m really excited for the outfits and I also am excited to walk the runway,” Kelly said. “I think it will be really fun.”

The show, taking place May 1 at the Westin Hotel, features 25 models — all of whom are local cancer survivors. It’s a popular gig, too. Anna Gottlieb, Executive Director of the Gilda’s Club in Seattle, said that there’s a waiting list to model each year.

This year, comedian and author Martin Short will be the speaker at the luncheon, which Gottlieb expects will draw even more people to attend. Short’s mother and wife both died of cancer, Gottlieb said.

“It’s really a show about living life to the fullest with cancer,” Gottlieb said. “We always just have five kids and a number of men and a number of women … So you’ll see someone with almost every type of cancer modeling.”

This will be Kelly’s first time modeling with Gilda’s Club. In the past Kelly, who lives in Edmonds with her mother Christine Kelly, had modeled with a Pacific Northwest agency called TCM. She began modeling when she was baby, according to her mom.

Kelly’s true passion isn’t modeling, though.

“I’ve always been interested in fashion and I’ve had interesting ideas for clothes, so I want to be a fashion designer,” she said.

Along with the other models, Kelly will be paired with a local boutique that will dress her for the show. She said she doesn’t know what she’ll be wearing yet, but she hopes it’s pink.

And what’s her ideal outfit?

“Probably a really pretty pastel dress,” she said. “Something like that.”

Neena Mathew was Kelly’s kindergarten teacher at Soundview School five years ago, before her diagnosis. While Kelly was sick and during her recovery, Neena visited her in the hospital.

“(It was) devastating,” she said. “But wow, she’s just come out of it so beautifully. It has been such an amazing journey with her.”

Now, she visits her three times a week to help with her homeschooling, assisting mostly with math. She said she is proud of Kelly for her participation in the Surviving with Style fashion show.

“Last year and this year it’s like everything she’s missed out has just bloomed. It’s so incredible. She’s making up for everything she’s missed,” she said. “She’s full of life, she talks about everything: … arts and crafts, fashion, animals. She just loves all kinds of animals.”

For Christine Kelly, it’s refreshing to see her daughter doing what she loves again.

“As a parent, I am very proud of her, I am happy that she is now comfortable enough to be open about her cancer experience,” she said in an email. “I am grateful that she is well and can do something she truly enjoys. Keira likes modeling because she has always loved the fashion world.”

For many, the fashion show is a proud moment, Gottlieb said.

“You think of cancer as being very depressing but this is a very uplifting, triumphant day for all the models,” Gottlieb said. “We have people who are newly diagnosed, who were diagnosed 25 years ago, to people who were told they weren’t going to live six months and now it’s been 10 years. We have everything.”

Kelly first encountered Gilda’s Club while at Seattle Children’s Hospital with her daughter a few years ago but didn’t get involved until this year. The fashion show, in its 18th year, according to Gottlieb, usually draws more than 700 people.

Gilda’s Club was named after Saturday Night Live’s Gilda Radner. Gottlieb said the club was founded on Radner’s belief that when someone is diagnosed with cancer, their whole family is diagnosed with cancer. The club offers free resources to cancer survivors and their families. The Seattle location, the 14th in the country, was founded in 2001.

— By Holly Thorpe

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