On a gray, rainy morning, fall descended on Miami. But inside Rik Rak Salon, Boutique and Bar in Brickell, springtime was in full bloom: pink ribbons, pink frosting on cupcakes, hot pink heels.
Owners of the salon donated the space and services for A Day of Hope, an event organized by the Pink Petals Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Dr. Jaime I. Flores to provide free breast reconstruction for patients who cannot afford it.
“Reconstruction closes the loop, the journey for breast cancer survivors. When you look in the mirror, that’s what you see,” said Susie Blanco, Pink Petals’ executive administrator, a breast cancer survivor and former patient of Flores, a Miami plastic surgeon.
With the goal of making that journey brighter, patients were treated to a spa day with hair and makeup before having their portraits taken by Allan Phillip Photography. The photos will be displayed at Pink Petals’ Breast Reconstruction Day fundraiser Oct. 15 at the Clevelander on South Beach.
“Chemo puts you at the opposite of beautiful,” said Guisella DeSouza, wearing a pale pink blouse for her photo shoot. “It’s nice to feel pretty.”
DeSouza, 30, was diagnosed in December and has undergone six rounds of chemotherapy. She decided to have a double mastectomy because breast cancer runs in her family, including her mother. If all goes well, she will soon undergo reconstructive surgery with Flores.
Sitting nearby, 28-year-old Christina Neal waited her turn for a makeover. In July, doctors detected cancer again in her left breast. She has had 13 surgeries since her first diagnosis two years ago.
“We’re like soul sisters,” DeSouza said. “We’re all going through this together. This is a chance to share our stories.”
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women and the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that about one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer.
Beating the disease is where most of the funding and efforts are directed. But Flores is focusing on life after the diagnosis.
A former assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Flores has reconstructed hundreds of women through his private practice in Kendall. When he moved to Miami in 2010, he realized there was a need to help breast cancer patients who could not afford reconstructive surgeries, which can cost $30,000 to $50,000. So he created Pink Petals.
Pink Petals has provided reconstructive surgeries for nine patients free of charge over the past three years, thanks to hospitals, companies that manufacture implants and healthcare professionals who have donated their services.
About 50 women are on a waiting list while Pink Petals obtains funds to cover their surgeries.
“Feeling complete, it’s something you can’t quantify,” Flores said.
The cause is close to home for Flores, who grew up in a poor area of Baltimore without health insurance. His beloved aunt, Adalicia, died after years of battling the disease. He was by her side the whole time.
“I made a commitment before she passed away that I would not do more than 50 percent of cosmetic surgery,” Flores said.
At Johns Hopkins, Flores helped refine “the SGAP flap” (superior gluteal artery perforator), a method of reconstructive surgery that takes fat and skin from the upper buttock area to form the breast. He also created the LSGAP, also known as the “Flores flap,” which uses tissue from the love handle area.
In addition, he dedicates two to three months out of the year to assist in missions abroad, mostly in South America, where he performs all types of reconstructive surgeries for the needy.
“I’m here because I believe in [Flores],” Blanco said. “When I was his patient I would speak with other women who said, ‘I didn’t have any insurance and he didn’t turn me away.’ I’ve seen how awesome he is.”
There could be a brighter future for Pink Petals and the community it serves. Last month the organization received 501(c)(3) status from the Internal Revenue Service, which means it can now apply for federal grants and receive donations from corporations, among other types of funding.
“It’s like a key to open a new door,” Flores said.
Pink Petal events
For more information about Pink Petal events, call 786-380-2950 or visit www.pinkpetals.org.
What: Breast Cancer Awareness Month Kick-Off
When: 5:30-9 p.m. Thursday
Where: Cibo Wine Bar, 45 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables
Cost: $15 (includes drinks and bites)
What: Zumba class
When: 10:30 a.m.-noon Oct. 11
Where: Paiva Studios, 13810 SW 142nd Ave.
Cost: $10 (includes refreshments, bites and raffles)
What: Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day event and fund-raiser
When: 6-8 p.m. Oct. 15
Where: Clevelander Hotel, 1020 Ocean Dr., South Beach
Cost: $20 at the door (includes drinks and bites)
Freedom Tower Goes Pink
What: Ceremony to Light Freedom Tower pink featuring LITE FM’s Kimba & Susan G. Komen Miami/Fort Lauderdale representatives
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 2
Where: Freedom Tower at Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus, 600 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
Info: Mix and mingle at Biscayne Tavern in the b2 Miami downtown hotel after the ceremony. RSVP at 305-383-7116 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Splash for the Cure — Aqua Zumba
When: 10-11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Miami Shores Aquatic Center, 10200 Biscayne Blvd.
Cost: $20 (all proceeds go to Susan G. Komen Miami/Fort Lauderdale)
Info: Call 786-565-5444, or visit www.felixqzumba.com.
Moon Over My Mammaries
What: Just the Funny’s Breast Cancer Benefit
When: 9 p.m. Oct. 11
Where: Just the Funny Improv Comedy Theater, 3119 Coral Way, Miami
Cost: $15 per ticket (all proceeds go to Susan G. Komen Miami/Fort Lauderdale)
Info: Call 305-978-9785, www.justthefunny.com.