Breast cancer did not come as too much of a surprise to fashion designer Mary-Ellen Prendergast.

Her grandmother had died from the disease in her 40s, and her mother had also succumbed to it, aged 36, so she always knew there was a good chance she would get it.

But that was three years ago, and now that she's been in the clear for two years, Ms Prendergast is using her talent to help publicise the fight against the disease.

The 33-year-old's designs will feature in Auckland fashion house High Society's charity fundraiser for the Breast Cancer Research Trust.

The High Society High Tea at the Langham Hotel tomorrow afternoon is just one event to mark International Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Auckland's Sky Tower will glow pink and the familiar pink ribbon street appeal will help to shine the spotlight on the No 1 cause of cancer deaths among New Zealand women.

But nothing raises attention quite like blokes with their gear off.

The Naked Rugby League Calendar, raising funds for Australia's National Breast Cancer Foundation, will feature NRL players, including New Zealanders Paul Whatuira and Brent Webb, in the buff.

All the featured players, who signed up despite not being sanctioned by the NRL, have loved ones affected by breast cancer.

Closer to home, Ms Prendergast is putting on a fashion show with a completely new line just a week after Air New Zealand Fashion Week.

The label she works on, Obi, staged the opening show at Fashion Week, with Prendergast as its main designer, under the guidance of High Society creative director Laurinda Sutcliffe.

Having endured a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction, Ms Prendergast's message was one of hope.

"It's not all doom and gloom, you know, there are a lot of success stories, and unfortunately you don't hear all about them.

"I've carried on my career, and everything's fantastic, even though what I've been through has been enormous."

* Tickets to the High Society High Tea are $65, and are available from 0800 227 828 or email

* The Naked Rugby League Calendar goes on sale for A$29.95 ($34) from October and can be ordered at


* About 2500 New Zealand women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in New Zealand

* Up to 95 per cent of them have no family of history of the disease

* Screening does not prevent breast cancer, but early detection reduces the risk of dying.