October 6, 2022 by Carol Britton Meyer
Hingham resident Nicole Merhill will join dozens of other models in the Runway Show, New England at the Westin Seaport Hotel in Boston on Oct. 14 during Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Through events such as this annual fashion show, Runway for Recovery celebrates those who are fighting breast cancer, remembers those who have passed, and provides inspiration to those whose lives will be touched by breast cancer.
The event is meant to re-define this disease, provide connections and support for one another, and to "dance in honor of life," with families coming from Massachusetts and the other New England states to enjoy the fashion show and to cheer on their loved ones who have gone through unimaginable challenges.
Runway for Recovery is a non-profit organization that provides families with a continuum of support along their journey with breast cancer, hosting events and providing services that create joy and inspire hope.
The organization's fundraising efforts support its family grants program, which provides financial assistance to families who have lost a caregiver to breast cancer and others who have a caregiver who have been given a stage IV diagnosis.
"Not everyone has the support of family and friends," Merhill told the Hingham Anchor. "When someone loses a parent or caregiver to breast cancer, [along with the sadness and sense of loss] are the costs associated with education, groceries, mental health counseling, and [other considerations], and that's where Runway steps in to provide that support -- helping families who are seeking some semblance of normalcy in the aftermath of breast cancer."
Merhill recalled that after she was diagnosed in 2016, she connected with a woman who had finished breast cancer treatment five years earlier and was involved with the Pan-Mass Challenge for advice and support.
"I actually met her for the first time in May 2017 at a PMC event when I was one month out of radiation treatment, and she said, 'Next year you will ride with me.' I was doubtful at the time, but three months later I cheered my friend on during her PMC ride and bought a bike two weeks later. I've been riding ever since," said Merhill, who rode her first PMC in 2018.
She walked The Runway for the first time in 2021. "It was amazing," Merhill said.
While many breast cancer organizations look to find a cure, Runway for Recovery's founder, Olivia Achtmeyer Boger, is looking "to find ways to help those families for whom the cure does not come in time."
The Runway Show is more than a fashion show. "Our models are survivors, thrivers, previvors, and the legacies of those who have passed from breast cancer. Each one has a story, and each one understands the impact a breast cancer diagnosis can have on a family," is the philosophy behind the event.
"At Runway for Recovery, we know that breast cancer never impacts just one person. We are here to celebrate and honor those who have been impacted by the disease. No matter how long the journey, no matter how difficult the struggle, something we always come back to is our core belief that the runway is shorter when we walk together," according to the Runway for Recovery website.
Merhill, who now serves on Runway's board of directors, considers herself to be "the queen of referrals to Mass General Hospital," which she said "literally saved my life."
She expressed appreciation for her team of nurses and doctors -- Amanda Darling, Dr. Steven Isakoff, and Dr. Michelle Specht. "They are my mom's treatment team as well now," Merhill said.
She also expressed gratitude to the Hingham community "for coming together to provide me with such great support. Everyone who goes through this experience should have that level of support, and that's how Runway helps -- by creating that opportunity for those who do not have that kind of support from their community or family or who are not ready to ask for help."
Merhill's mother, Francine, who is also a breast cancer survivor; her husband, Brian Parnell; their son, Ethan; her sister, Renee Merhill -- who came from her home in London to provide support during Nicole's treatment and surgery; and a friend from New Hampshire also provided invaluable support.
The 16th annual Runway Show, New England -- Runway for Recovery's largest event of the year -- will take place Friday, Oct. 14, at 6 p.m., and Merhill is looking forward to participating for the second time.
To learn more about Nicole's journey, visit https://runwayforrecovery.org/meet-the-models-nicole-merhill and https://www.classy.org/event/the-runway-show-new-england/e415780 to buy tickets and to access the main donation page. The donor link to Nicole's page is https://www.classy.org/fundraiser/4072776.