Paul Schneck  /  Gilda's Club
Fashion designer Carmen Marc Valvo, left, poses with Pearl Griffith Eccles, a Gilda's Club member and a participant in the 2006 Sanofi-Aventis Snapshot of Survival art contest for people affected by colorectal cancer.
updated 4/24/2007 12:20:50 PM ET 2007-04-24T16:20:50

Each month, we highlight a celebrity in a specific charity and have them talk about their work on behalf of their cause. This month, we speak with New York fashion designer Carmen Marc Valvo, who has designed for the likes of Kate Winslet, Mary J. Blige, Katie Couric and Oprah, about his volunteer work for Gilda's Club.

Q: How long have you been involved with Gilda’s Club?

A: Two years.

Q: What does the organization do?

A: Well, Gilda Radner (the charity's namesake) died of ovarian cancer, so a lot of people are under the misconception that it’s only for ovarian-cancer patients or survivors. But it’s actually open to all people with cancer. What’s so unique about Gilda’s Club is that it ... also provides support to friends and family. So it’s a place you can really go to as a family unit and try to deal with the crisis or the trauma that has befallen you. It’s very unique in that respect.

Q: What inspired you to choose this cause?

A: It’s interesting, when I first got involved with them two years ago, and that was through the sanofi-aventis "Snapshot Of Survival" (art) contest, I wasn’t really that familiar with their work to be very very honest. But as I learned more and more about Gilda’s Club I realized what an incredible institution it was and I wanted to be more involved.

Q: How are you involved with the organization?

A: My first involvement was the sanofi-aventis “Snapshot Of Survival” group. ... It was for colon-cancer survivors or people who had colon cancer who were undergoing treatment and on the way hopefully to full recovery. And as a colon-cancer survivor myself, they asked me if I would participate and I said, "Of course, what does this entail?" It was just judging the artwork that these patients had done, not only the patients — it could have been the entire family. You had to (compose) a piece of art, accompanied with prose, a poem, or just your thoughts about what you were going through, this horrible journey that we call cancer. ... Because I am a survivor it became very, very emotional for me.

Q: How has your personal struggle influenced your charity work?

A: With Gilda’s Club that whole thing was very emotional because I am a survivor now for four years. It took me almost a year and a half to even go public about what I had gone through, and so (it) was hard going through the artwork of all of these participants in this contest. It was extremely emotionally draining because I started reliving everything that I had gone through. In the process, I also realized how important Gilda’s Club was because at that time there was no … support center. I had just myself, and I kept it very very quiet, very personal. There was nobody that I could even share my thoughts with. It was almost like putting up this wall. You could be physically healthy but you also have to deal with all the emotional baggage that having cancer entails. That’s why Gilda’s Club was one of the charities that I decided to become involved in.

I am (also) very, very much involved with Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, which is a Saks Fifth Avenue thing. I’ve been very much involved with ovarian cancer with the L’Oreal Paris’ fund. Coming from a medical background I guess a part of that has always been in my blood or in my genes. But after I went public with my battle with cancer, I realized I’d become much more involved in trying to support every and all groups that I possibly could and making cancer … something more fashionable to talk about.

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It’s not something that we should be ashamed of, that we have a disease. It’s something we should kind of embrace and let people know about it through communication and being more open with what is going on. I think it would probably expedite finding a cure.

Q: What did your being honored at the Gilda’s Club Worldwide Benefit Gala mean to you?

A: I am a little embarrassed to be honest. I’m very, very honored. Just being considered, it’s very, very touching. Gilda’s Club has been very, very special and I feel like I have been a part of their family now. I am just thrilled to be honored but I do what I do because I really want to bring about the change. ... I think the one thing about being honored by Gilda’s Club is that perhaps the message will be heard in a stronger more unified voice and for that I’m grateful.

Q: Why should people support Gilda’s Club?

A: I don’t think there’s anybody who hasn’t been touched by either a friend or a family member who has been afflicted with cancer. It’s very, very difficult for somebody who hasn’t gone through it to realize how lonely and how scared you become. You become very introverted and then it’s a roller-coaster of emotions that you’re going through. You go from highs to lows and never in-between, and even having family and friends around you, they don’t really understand you, this roller coaster ride that you’re on.

Gilda’s Club understands it because a lot of them are survivors themselves and they are committed to help, not only the patient, but also the family. ... It’s really an incredible organization and I support them a thousand percent and I hope other people do as well.

For more information on Gilda's Club, visit the organization's Web site.For more information on Carmen Marc Valvo, visit his Web site.

Interviewed by Giacinta Pace of NBC News.


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