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Gowns on tour create twofold memories

The sale of these wedding gowns for that special day helps women dying of breast cancer make final memories.

By STEPHANIE HAYES
Published June 6, 2003

TAMPA - Fran Hansen sat up in bed one night with a vision.

She saw Oprah Winfrey. She saw a truck and a trailer with logos on it. And she saw 10,000 wedding gowns.

Hansen, of Portland, Ore., was trying to raise money to fulfill the last wishes of women dying from breast cancer.

Wedding gowns, those frilly, one-time-worn creations, were just the ticket. Hansen was already experienced in the field, having owned several bridal shops and a catering business before taking a job at a local college.

Hansen's nighttime revelation did not come without a catalyst. During a routine mammogram, an unusual lump was found. In the days leading up to test results, Hansen spent hours surfing the Internet for information on breast cancer.

She stumbled across letters from breast cancer patients across the globe. The stories moved her.

"So many of them wrote of their knowledge that time was drawing near and they would soon leave their husbands, children, grandchildren and loved ones. Their heartache was overwhelming," she said.

Hansen turned out to be cancer free. But she could not escape the endless thoughts of those who weren't so lucky. In 1997 she established the Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation and the foundation's primary money-maker, a nationwide tour of bridal gowns.

On Friday and Saturday, Brides Against Breast Cancer comes to Tampa.

The tour is composed of 2,000 traveling wedding gowns and accessories. Dresses from size 4 to 60 and ranging in price from $49 to $599 will be for sale at the Tampa Convention Center.

"We have dresses that are worth $4,000," Hansen said.

New York wedding gown designer Demetrios donated $250,000 worth of new dresses to the foundation after Hansen's dream of appearing on Oprah came true in 2000.

Oprah's plea for donations garnered the foundation its current stash of 10,000 gowns collected in an Oregon City warehouse, ranging in style and age.

Proceeds go directly to the Making Memories foundation. To date, 100 terminally ill breast cancer patients have been granted wishes.

"The majority of them ask for family trips, second honeymoons or family reunions," Hansen said.

One woman requested a camcorder to leave messages for her children, who were too young to remember a family vacation.

"She had the camera for five months before she passed on," Hansen said.

"All from the sale of one dress."

- Stephanie Hayes can be reached at 269-5303 or shayes@sptimes.com

If you go

Brides Against Breast Cancer charity wedding gown sale is 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Saturday at the Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St.

Gown donations are tax-deductable. Volunteers are needed.

Call (503)-252-3955 for information.

[Last modified June 5, 2003, 10:31:22]

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