An hour before the Fifth Avenue Mall was set to open Sunday morning, its halls were filled with shoppers. They were there to be a part of Retail Therapy, an annual event hosted by Anchorage and Valley Radiation Therapy Centers. The event was for cancer patients and survivors, along with caregivers and other people who are a part of the treatment process.

“It’s really just a way for us to honor and celebrate these individuals and give them a few hours of relaxation,” said Diana Arthur, the marketing director of the hosting organization. She said the event is not a fundraiser. “We do not look at this as a way to raise any money or take any money from anybody. We just want them to celebrate and enjoy their day.”

One cancer survivor said the annual event is an opportunity to meet people who have gone through a similar experience.

“It’s just an awesome community time to come together and to meet other cancer survivors,” said Diane Brooks, who has been cancer-free for 15 years.

She was joined by Cynthia Alexander, a friend of nearly three decades who also served as a caregiver during Brooks’ toughest times.

“It’s about living. It is scary, but you just have to keep the faith and want to live and do what you can to live,” Alexander said.

Janet Zoellick, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in May, said the event provided an opportunity to talk about the challenges that come with treatment.

“It kind of makes you feel like this road isn’t quite as bad,” said Zoellick, who was treated to a free makeup session in Sephora at JCPenney. “It’s kind of easy to look at yourself and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t have any hair. I don’t feel good about myself.’ And so this helps you feel good about yourself. And just everything they’re doing makes you feel like you’re not alone.”

She said her cancer was detected during her annual mammogram, and urged other to be screened regularly.

“Early detection can save lives,” Zoellick said.

Roughly 200 people attended Sunday’s event. Click here to see other related events happening in Anchorage in October, which is breast cancer awareness month.

KTVA 11’s Eric Ruble can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

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