Cancer won't stop glamour grandma

By Julia Proverbs

Despite being diagnosed with breast cancer three months ago, Gaynor Schiff is putting her best foot forward.

The 68-year-old former Miss Rhodesia will be taking to the catwalk in the Indulge Bay Model Competition on September 28.

The oldest finalist, she said she entered the competition to ''be an example of positivity and encouragement to women who may be on a new and difficult road of some kind themselves''.

Mrs Schiff, who had a cancerous 1.5cm lump removed from one of her breasts in July, is undergoing radiation therapy.

The lump was discovered when she went for a routine mammogram.

''It was not one that could be felt at all,'' she said.

''I would encourage anybody to go because you can't always find it yourself.''

Although it was successfully removed, she began a three-week course of radiotherapy last week to reduce the risk of it recurring.

''They say you do get tired towards the end of the second week but at the moment I haven't got time to be tired. I've got quite a lot on my little plate at the moment,'' Mrs Schiff said.

The glamorous grandmother had her modelling debut when she was just 16.

Living in what was then Rhodesia, she happened to walk into a clothes store when the country was launching its first television broadcast and was asked to model a wedding gown.

''It launched me into a whole little sideline,'' the 1.79m beauty laughed.

In 1966 she won the title of Miss Rhodesia but, after making it into the top 10, was disqualified from the Miss World competition.

She was told at the time that it was because of copyright issues over a piece of literature she had chosen to recite, but later found out it was because independence had been declared in Rhodesia.

At 22, she became Rhodesia's ''Fashion Ambassadress'', publicising Rhodesian fashion in South Africa.

As a publicity stunt she was tasked with taking two live cheetahs-Tukutuku and Silica- with her wherever she went.

''It led to all kinds of experiences, as you can imagine,'' she said.

She recalled walking down Johannesburg's main street with the two felines when they caught a whiff of a butcher's shop.

''They can run at 75 miles an hour . . . off they took with me screaming behind them. They landed on the counter in the butcher's shop. They were aghast.''

And the time they attacked a stuffed lion that was part of a stage set at a fashion show to celebrate the opening of a new shopping centre:

''I came in at the end in a beautiful white Grecian gown and they saw the stuffed lion and pounced on it. The audience thought they were going to be eaten.''

In 1971 she won Rhodesia's Model of the Year competition, leaving behind her modelling career a couple of years later to raise her two daughters, Kerry, who was born in 1973 and Vanessa, born in 1977.

When both her girls moved to New Zealand, Mrs Schiff and her husband Brian followed them.

''We love it, all of it,'' she said of the country that has been her home for the past two years."

Mrs Schiff credits her svelte figure, and an appearance that belies her years, to dancing and eating a healthy diet.

She has a dance team that performs ''worship dancing'' and is currently teaching dancing as a volunteer at Bethlehem College.

''It keeps me really fit and I love it,'' she said.

Mrs Schiff admitted she ''absolutely'' had her dark moments after finding out she had cancer, but that it had also been a blessing.

''This whole experience has been a blessing in a way. To have the opportunity to find it and the way I've been treated by medical staff and friends and family has been outstanding, phenomenal,'' she said.

''I'm very optimistic and positive. I think that none of us really know how many good summers we've got left in life. We've got to make the most of every opportunity and enjoy the people around us.''

- Bay of Plenty Times

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