Model patient Michele Torres inspires

7:17 AM, Aug 3, 2012   |    comments
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NEW YORK -- On the rooftop of a glamorous New York City hotel, the life of one lucky woman was about to change.

For Michele Torres, too much change and not enough luck paved the path to this moment.

"It was the most heartbreaking thing I've ever seen," Michele Torres says in her Atlanta home, referring to two dates she would rather forget.

"We lost him on October 28th of 2010," she said. That was when her beloved 46-year-old brother, John, father to three children, died from a brain tumor.

The next date quickly followed. "Two weeks after that, I got a phone call from my doctors that said 'You have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Stage 3, Grade 3,' and that is breast cancer," she said.

Michele had radiation, chemotherapy and finally, a double mastectomy last spring. She will take chemo pills every day for the next five years.

So what does a grieving, sick cancer patient do? She enters a national model search contest.

"Well why not?" she said with a big grin on her face. "Come on!"

Wilhelmina modeling agency and 'O' magazine went looking for the best new model over 30 years old. Michele sent a home video and told her story.

"The next thing I know, I got a call from New York and they said 'Congratulations, you're one of the Top 30.'"

Top 30 became Top 10. At 53 years old, Michele was the oldest finalist, and maybe the funniest. She showed us her vast array of hilarious wigs, which she wore to chemotherapy every week.

"People started looking forward to my wearing these wigs every week to chemo," she said.

And when people meet her, they often feel like they know her, because they do. She's the voice of MARTA.

"Thank you for riding MARTA," she said in her MARTA voice. "Please tap your breeze card."

She's also another, much less welcome voice: "I'm sorry I didn't get that. I'm sorry, let me get someone for you."

Yes, that annoying computerized operator who won't let you talk to a real person at T-Mobile, at Airtran, pretty much everywhere - it's her.

"Everybody hates me," she said laughing. "I hate me! I'm sorry, please enter your card number again."

So this was the irreverent, world-weary package going to New York to mix it up with the younger set.

"If I don't walk away the winner, I don't care," she said beforehand. "I'm going to have the best time of my life."

And just for the record, she hasn't had work done.

"Everything is completely natural -- except for the things that tried to kill me," she said, looking down, laughing again.

In New York City, the other finalists were all perfect tens -- not a slouch in the bunch.

"It has been the most incredible experience of my entire life," Michele said.

Grey for the first time in her life, surgically reconstructed and older than the rest, Michele is a star.

"She radiates," said longtime super model Roshumba Williams. "There's a light about her. She's pretty. She lights up on camera. She moves really well."

That's important feedback. Williams is one of the judges.

On the runway, Michele was the crowd favorite. The audience screamed as they announce her age.

When the winners were announced, Michele was the first runner up. A Pennsylvania woman was named the winner.

After the contest, Michele said, "I'm back. I'm back. I just feel amazing. What a step back from being where I was last year to where I am today. It's unbelievable."

So maybe the luck was bad, and the change was forced. But it produced a metamorphosis -- and a new stage has begun.

"You gotta hang on," she said. "You gotta hang on because you don't know what's right around the corner."

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