At age 26, Carolyne Williams’ breasts rapidly grew from barely an A cup to a full B in three months.

A rare, non-curable type of breast cancer called malignant cystosarcoma phyllodes was killing her while doctors ignored the terminal disease, diagnosed the growth as a simple infection, prescribed antibiotics and told her not to worry.

“By the time I got a mammogram, the tumor was literally the size of a grapefruit and they rushed me to a mastectomy,” she said from her aunt’s Ellicott City home, where she moved to from Virginia to receive medical care. “When doctors don’t know much and you don’t have insurance, they don’t do much for you.”

Williams, known to her friends and other survivors on MySpace as Carrie Lee Warrior, is one of 30 breast cancer survivors walking the catwalk Friday during Steps to the Cure. The black-tie fundraiser features a live auction and fashion show. For each survivor-model, a professional or student designer created a one-of-a-kind piece. 

“I started crying during my fitting last week,” Williams said. “I had just flown back from my friend Courtney [Clevenger’s] funeral. We met at a young survivors conference. [Courtney,] who was 23 and I had planned to move to California together, start a foundation and take the world by storm. I felt very isolated because of how rare my cancer is -- when you look up breast cancer sites they don’t even list it. But Courtney didn’t make me feel that way. She was like my sister.

“We were strong with everyone else,” she continued. “But with each other we’d talk all the time about her [cancer’s reoccurrence] at stage 4 and the darkness and how I was afraid and how she was afraid ... Doctors tell you it’s so important mentally to find someone who is your twin ... I asked a doctor at a conference that Courtney was too sick to make it to, ‘What do you do when your twin is dying?”

Still in pain from her disease that’s likely to return at any time and grieving over the loss of her best friend, Williams believes Steps to the Cure has “rekindled my advocacy fire,” she said.

“I had been very apathetic all of sudden. But now I’m encouraged again, especially given the fact other people want to hear Courtney’s story, and she’s going to continue to live on and help inspire people to find a cure.”

Steps to the Cure
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: American Visionary Art Museum
800 Key Highway, Baltimore
Cost: $200

Proceeds from Steps to the Cure, organized by the Larry and Lori Lickstein Foundation, will benefit the Fuchsia Foundation, Kids Konnected, the Red Devils and the Maryland affiliate of Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. The evening will feature a live auction, offering to the highest bidder an original Christian Siriano design and cakes created by Duff Goldman and his Ace of Cakes designers. Siriano, the Annapolis native fashion designer who won Bravo TV’s Project Runway, will emcee the fashion show. Sascha’s is catering the event.