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American Fashion Designer Carmen Marc Valvo

A Private Battle with Colon Cancer

by Laura Shipp


(photo by Dan Lecca)

New York fashion designer Carmen Marc Valvo’s passion is to bring glamorous dressing to every woman’s life. Although Carmen is a favorite among celebrities like Beyoncé, Vanessa Williams, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Oprah Winfrey, his devotion to his non-celebrity clients is what has made him a star. After studying at New York’s famous Parsons School of Design, he began his professional career as a ready-to-wear designer for Nina Ricci in Paris. Then in 1989 with only a few thousand dollars to assemble a collection, he launched his own label, a fearless move that brought immediate success.

When it comes to fashion, the world of Carmen Marc Valvo consists of everything from couture to swimwear. But when it comes to his private life, the world of Carmen Marc Valvo includes a hidden battle with colon cancer. In a recent interview with Coping® magazine, he shares his private struggles with this disease and his new passion as an advocate for colorectal cancer awareness.

In 2003 as Carmen was preparing to launch his fall collection, he began to feel like something was a little off. “I’m very in tune with my body,” he recalls, “and there was something that was just not right. I’m extremely regular, and that all of a sudden changed. My body clock was off.”

In his late forties, Carmen was just shy of the recommended age (50) to begin colorectal cancer screening. However, he listened to his body and insisted on having a colonoscopy, an insistence that may have saved his life. His doctors found a large tumor inside his colon. Carmen had colon cancer. Wanting to be rid of this foreign invader immediately, he quickly and quietly underwent surgery to remove the tumor, disclosing his condition to only a few key employees.

“I want to be surrounded by things of beauty, people I care about, people I enjoy. I don’t want any negativity surrounding me.”

photo by Josua Allen

“I was a little shocked, a little dumbfounded, a bit embarrassed, and then probably afraid,” he says, remembering those initial days of diagnosis and treatment. “You never know in a situation like that what the outcome is going to be. But I dealt with it very quickly, very methodically, and kind of matter-of-fact. I didn’t leave a lot of room for emotion, to be honest.”

The next weeks and months were uncertain as Carmen privately dealt with the reality of colon cancer. Carmen beat the disease, but he kept it quiet until two years later when a series of serendipitous events led him to CBS News anchor and colorectal cancer awareness advocate Katie Couric and the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance. The NCCRA, along with fashion week sponsor Olympus, was launching a colorectal cancer awareness initiative during the Spring/Summer 2005 fashion week in New York. Carmen, believing that the universe was trying to tell him something, knew that he had to lend his support. And this meant “coming out of the cancer closet,” as he likes to call it.

Under the tents at Bryant Park, Carmen shared his story publicly for the first time. “And that was very hard for me, just to be public about it that first time,” Carmen confides, “but it was also very exciting because it started me on a completely different path. And I’m very happy that it has brought me to where I am today.”

For Carmen, the “Be Seen, Be Screened” campaign was a way to further the dialogue about colon cancer and thereby decrease its stigma and raise awareness for screening and early detection. “Colon cancer was the cancer no one talked about. It was the dirty one. Nobody discussed their bowel movements. It’s a very private part of the body,” he says. “But I think that’s changed a lot, which is good because at least people are talking.”

Cancer-free for almost five years, Carmen travels the world finding inspiration for his remarkable designs. Through his collections, Carmen brings a touch of glamour to the fashionistas among us. And with his story of survival, he gives hope to those touched by cancer.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

To find out more about Carmen Marc Valvo or to view his collections, visit www.carmenmarcvalvo.com.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2008.