Go Backstage at our Gala with Annie Fisher

September 21, 2023

As we get ready for our 26th annual Surviving with Style Fashion Show and Gala, Cancer Pathways’ Shayla Ring sits down in a different kind of chair with AFH Salon’s Annie Fisher. Or maybe Annie sits in Shayla’s metaphorical chair? There’s many ways to go with this metaphor. They discuss Annie’s decade-long involvement in our Gala, the wisdom she’s gained from working backstage, and what she looks forward to every year about this beautiful, inspirational night.

Anna says you have been donating your services to our Surviving with Style Gala for about ten years, how did you first get involved with Cancer Pathways, and what led you to getting involved with the Gala?

I personally got involved with Cancer Pathways by participating at the [Bryce Fisher Golf Tournament] and various things a little bit before that. 

I personally have friends and family members who have experienced cancer, and as a hair stylist and salon owner I’ve worked with people in my chair and also co-workers that are experiencing cancer. So cancer has definitely been a part of my life and my career on some level. 

My husband’s family got involved with Cancer Pathways because of my mother-in-law’s diagnosis and that was obvious for me to connect based on my own experiences. For me, hair is always an easy way to share my time and talent and to be able to love on people in a way that I know can be helpful during a really hard season, whether their hair is growing back or they’re shaving their head, or getting a wig. Being a part of that intimacy previously, I felt like the gala was such an obvious thing for me to get involved in. 

What has kept you coming back to the gala after all these years?

The relationships. I think Anna [Gottlieb] herself and the way she connects with people and makes people feel valued and appreciated.

The commitment of volunteers and how many people come back year after year really speaks the core of what they’re creating and the ways that they want to help and make our community better. That alignment for me and the relationships is why I come back.

What is your mindset going into the Gala and does that differ at all from your mindset when you’re working in your salon with your clients?

My mindset whether it’s a volunteering opportunity or at my salon is the same. It’s about creating a safe space for people to be vulnerable about their needs. 

We’re all in different places and seasons in our life, whether it’s wellness or sickness, life changes, job changes. That intimacy and vulnerability that needs to be created by me as the artist, that doesn’t change regardless of the space that I’m working in. 

I come in tender and open to meet them wherever they are in their own healing journey. Some people walking in the Gala are driving with cancer – they don’t have a clear journey to recovery, some people are in their recovery journey, some people are still in their treatment journey. We just meet them wherever they are and help them feel the best in their skin, whether that’s their hair, wigs, embracing their baldness, just rallying and being supportive around that.

What would you say has been your most memorable experience when you’re working backstage at the gala?

I think the thing that’s the most shocking and memorable is how much of an impact there is every year.

You can’t get numb, you can’t get detached, every year is impactful. You think ‘Oh, I’ve done this before I’m not going to be as emotionally charged or impacted.’ It’s emotional every time. These are human stories, and every human story is so different and the impact is so different. I can’t help it, every year I leave so touched and inspired. 

And hope is the other part of it. No matter where people are in their journey I’m always so inspired by the hope and resiliency, whether it’s the kids or the most senior person in the group. It’s really inspiring because everybody has hardships, everybody has low points and to see people be so optimistic and hopeful, it’s like how is that not contagious?

Surviving with Style is such a beautiful celebration of life and strength in the face of something that is very daunting and overwhelming. What have you learned about life after ten years of working with people with such incredible stories?

That we’re so much stronger together. You see the family support system, a cancer support group, the way Cancer Pathways supports and rallies around the kids and the families the way that they do, we really are stronger together. 

The need for Community when we go through hard things is so important, and to know that you’re not doing it alone; other people have experienced some version of what your experiencing. Whether it’s the kid whose Mom is going through cancer, or you’re personally going through it, there’s that safety in community and strength in community. That is such a big reminder and lesson every year.

What are you looking forward to most about this year’s event?

This event has taught me to be open, so I’m open to learning and open to the relationships and connecting with people and allowing them to share and shine and rally around that in whatever way I can.

I’ve been so blessed by attending each year and hearing the encouraging stories, the laughs, making new friendships.

It’s such a beautiful night to create art on people who are so scared to model because they’ve never modeled. Going in open and without expectations is really great. I’ve built up a great team of backstage people, hairdressers and makeup artists, that I trust. And we become bonded through that night, too. Sharing these vulnerable stories, and we really connect after the event, and talk about our stories, how some of us connected with the same person in the same way. It really bonds us and it’s a feeling that we don’t always get in the salon, so I always look forward to that as well.

We are weeks out from this year’s Surviving with Style Gala! Registration is open now, as are opportunities for sponsorships, auction items, and purchasing a table for a model’s loved ones. 

Annie Fisher, owner of AFH Salon and sister-in-law of Bryce Fisher (who you may remember from our Golf Tournament) has been an integral part of our Gala for the past decade. Each year her team donates their services in hair and makeup backstage for our models. They share stories, laugh, bond, and help our models look and feel their before they step on the runway.