The show must go on

Robyn Speed puts her best breast forward in this Saturday's Tarnished Frocks & Divas show. Photos: Bruce Barnard.


When Robyn Speed walks the Tarnished Frocks and Divas catwalk on Saturday it will be one of the last outings for her left breast.

Robyn is ensuring she relishes the occasion and she’s not holding back. For one of her appearances she goes bra-less under a simple slip below an amazing hat.

When Robyn, a health conscious 53-year-old, was diagnosed with breast cancer in July the advice was to have surgery immediately. There were two areas of concern, which meant a mastectomy was the necessary surgical solution.

Instead of simply going along with a medical directive given fairly firmly on the telephone, Robyn stopped and took stock.

“I felt I did not have enough information to make a decision, and it took real effort on my part to find out what I needed to know.”

Robyn also had other reasons. As a qualified naturopath, with her own natural health business, having to enter the mainstream medical system and be at the mercy of it, highly skilled though the surgeons are, was a challenge – though having natural health practitioners work more closely with the medical profession to help people heal has always been a goal of Robin’s.

Her role in Tarnished Frocks and Divas was also a consideration. “I love the show and find it so inspiring and energizing I did not want to miss it. It probably sounded crazy to the surgeon to be told that participation in a show was more important than immediate surgery, but I genuinely felt this was important to my overall wellbeing as I prepared to lose a breast.”

Robyn’s naturopathy experience and the intuitive knowledge of her own body gained over a lifetime as a type one diabetes sufferer came into play.

“I knew I was undertaking a new journey here and I wanted to ensure it was a considered path not a quick reaction I might live to regret.”

She did her research and took advice from colleagues and lateral thinkers in the health profession. This made her feel safe and strong in the decisions she made, and in conveying them to others. “My friends and family were fantastically supportive,” she says.

She also wanted to prepare her body for the ‘onslaught’ having discovered, in her research, solid evidence that enhancing your health before an operation can aid recovery and reduce likelihood of recurrence.

“I have been ridding my body of toxins with organic food and lots of healthy juices. The Tauranga Farmers’ Market is a great source of natural food.”

The experience of performing in Tarnished Frocks and Divas has been a fantastic antidote to concerns about her health. “I have adored every minute of it and met amazing women who have supported me in my decisions and thrown themselves into this shared experience of the show.”

This is Robyn’s second appearance as a model in the biennial ‘theatre of the catwalk’. She was drawn into the show by her old friend Robyne Dowdall who is its Creative Director of Design. She arrived on the Dowdall doorstep one day feeling pretty low.

“My daughter Tammy had just left home for university and my cat had been run over. While I was receiving empathy from Robyne she had a call from the show’s producer, Denny Spee. I heard her say, ‘I have a model here for you. I will tell her to audition.’

“Despite nearly falling over in the first rehearsals I trusted the process. I’ve been hooked on the show ever since and it certainly allayed any empty nest feeling.”

Robyn’s son Matt, now 23, lives in Australia, where, among other things, he is a hypnotist; and 20-year-old Tammy is studying textiles and weaving in Wellington.

Robyn freely acknowledges the dichotomy of being a naturopath with breast cancer. “It initially shocked me that my ‘self-aware’ body should let me down like this,” admits Robyn, despite her knowledge that nature takes no prisoners.

Robyn qualified as a naturopath in 2004 after working as a beauty therapist and, for complete contrast, a stint on the prawn boats in Australia. Her clinic is the front room of her cottage which pays homage to retro. “When I bought most of it, it was considered junk!” she laughs of décor which acts as the perfect backdrop for the Tarnished Frocks and Divas style ethos.

As soon as the show is over she will book in for surgery, body prepared, spirits uplifted by participation in the performance and with full intention that life and business will continue with even more enthusiasm.

“I feel confident and powerful,” she says of her future and her part in deciding it.