Honoring breast cancer survivors

Robert Irvine, Hargray team up to help those with breast cancer

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comOctober 18, 2011 

At Sunday night's Hargray Hope Dinner honoring 50 local breast cancer survivors at Robert Irvine's eat! restaurant, arriving guests walked a pink carpet and had their picture taken paparazzi-style. Here, from left, Annalise Miller looks on as Shelly Schwartz of Belle Rouge Studio photographs attendees Beatrice Grant and cancer survivor Jackie Young.

JAY KARR/THE ISLAND PACKET

More than 50 breast cancer survivors walked into Robert Irvine's eat! on a pink carpet Sunday. Each was being honored at the Hilton Head Island restaurant as part of the Hargray Hope Dinner, a chance to recognize those who've battled the disease.

The cause has always been important to the host of the dinner, Robert Irvine. But it became personal two years ago. His father got breast cancer.

Irvine was filming an episode of his Food Network series "Dinner: Impossible" when his father, Walter, came to visit from England. The trip went well, but after Walter headed home, he discovered a bump on his chest. He went to have his chest examined and it was something neither he nor his son thought he'd get (only about 1 percent of breast cancer cases occur in men).

"No way," Irvine thought at the time. "This is not a male disease."

Walter immediately got a mastectomy and went through chemotherapy. He's a survivor now, at age 74.

Irvine said he was more than willing to help provide a dinner to those who've gone through the same struggle his father did.

"I look at all the people fighting and think, 'What can we do to cheer them up?'" he said.

Hargray coordinated with Hilton Head Hospital to find survivors to invite to the dinner. It was a first at Irvine's restaurant but the second year in a row Hargray has held an event during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

"We're honoring their spirit and the spirit of people everywhere who've fought this disease," said marketing director Eddie Andrews.

Alycia Tullos, who goes by Muffin, was one of the survivors who attended the dinner. She was diagnosed in March 2010. The diagnosis came as a shock; she had no family history of breast cancer. It was a bit overwhelming, but once she settled into a routine and had an idea of where her treatments would lead, it relaxed her a little. The focus came on fighting and not worrying.

The last 18 months were a whirlwind of surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy -- trips from her Beaufort home to Hilton Head Hospital and the Medical University of South Carolina. She had a double mastectomy and reconstruction. She attended the dinner feeling like life is almost back to normal. She's done with surgeries and chemotherapy. Her hair is growing back. The dinner was a chance to reflect on all that she's been through.

"It wasn't as bad as it could have been," she said. "But I'm glad it's behind me."

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