In 2010, Lisa McKenzie had an idea to make bra straps stylish. The idea took off and soon after starting her Ooh La Bra business, she was traveling the country and selling her product at more than 500 retailers.
Amidst the success, Lisa realized she wanted her business to stand for something more. She wanted to lift people up in an even bigger way. And that’s why she created a program focused on an issue that was deeply personal for her: helping women navigate life after cancer.
Cancer Strikes a Chord
When Lisa was in her 20s, her mother, Elaine Roark, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Lisa remembers her mother getting off a plane: “She was bald. She had one breast removed. And she was like, ‘This is me, take me as I am.’ And I was scared to death.”
“Cancer sucks. Especially for women, who are already so hard on themselves.” —Lisa McKenzie
Seeing her mom battling cancer, physically weak, but still so emotionally strong and full of life was Lisa’s inspiration for You Night Empowering Events. She founded You Night to help women regain their self-esteem after battling cancer.
People see the physical scars of cancer, but what they can’t see are the painful emotional scars patients are left with. Lisa was determined to turn those scars into something positive—she wanted women to feel whole again.
“After cancer I felt broken. You Night made me whole again.” —Charo Arnold
You Night is a five-month program based in New Orleans that creates a lifetime sisterhood. Twice a year, 24 women are nominated by other cancer survivors to go through the program. It kicks off during a retreat where the women tell their individual stories, healing over shared hardships and triumphs. This emotional first weekend forges a bond between the women that extends beyond the life of the program. They turn to each other with questions, for support or simply words of encouragement.
After the retreat, the focus shifts to rebuilding their self-esteem. Some of these women have lost their hair or gone through transformative surgeries, and they don’t feel like themselves, let alone beautiful. So, the You Night women work with runway coaches and photographers to learn how to walk and pose with confidence. They meet with stylists and are fully pampered. Every detail is covered, from finding the perfect dress to trial hair and makeup runs before each model is fitted for beautiful gowns and the latest fashions from local boutiques.
Everything leads up to one big celebration of life: the runway event. On the day of the event, the ladies are given superstar treatment with professional hair and makeup and gowns awaiting.
An Unforgettable Night
Every You Night participant has a story. For Charo Arnold, it was the people cheering her on that made her You Night runway walk especially meaningful. As if cancer isn’t scary enough, Charo was diagnosed while pregnant and started chemo right away. She delivered a healthy, beautiful baby on December 31st and 10 months later her husband, daughter and 800 supporters came out to cheer on Charo and the 2016 St. Tammany Louisiana Class.
“These are the strongest women in the world.” —Lisa McKenzie
A few months prior, Charo couldn’t imagine “putting on a fancy gown” and being on stage in front of so many people. But through the overwhelming love and support of You Night, she regained something cancer took from her—her confidence—and rocked the runway.
Behind the Scenes
Never one to sit still, Lisa oversees lighting, sound and the overall show from the sound booth, where she has a center stage view of the women walking. For her, that’s the ultimate payoff—to see these women go through such a profound transformation.
“I’m not trained to be a fashion show producer. I’m not trained in bra straps. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to be able to do this.” —Lisa McKenzie
The first model Lisa ever saw walk at her very first You Night event was, fittingly, her own mother. Elaine Roark walked out and winked at Lisa, and “it was just tears.”
The 24 women who go through the program then nominate the next 24 survivors to be models. That’s how Lisa’s dream continues to grow and have an impact on the community. By empowering one survivor, by rebuilding one life at a time, she has helped more than 150 women and their families survive and thrive with life after cancer.
“My dream is to empower one and impact many.” —Lisa McKenzie