For sure, stranger things have happened in the lobby of Magee-Womens Hospital.
But the sight earlier this week of 62-year-old Ava Kundman parading through the Oakland hospital in a full-length strapless ivory wedding dress, black Teva sandals poking out from under her long train, prompted more than a few stares and smiles.
And the story behind it is ever more remarkable.
They say that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.
When life gave Elissa Ashwood cancer, she glammed up with 33 different dresses for her radiation treatments, blogged about it, inspired hundreds of people, bought a wedding dress and gave it away to Ms. Kundman.
Before Wednesday, the two had never met. By that afternoon, they were fast friends -- hugging and laughing about Ms. Kundman becoming the 41-year-old Ms. Ashwood's "life coach."
Ms. Ashwood of Squirrel Hill was diagnosed with breast cancer at her first mammogram, shortly after turning 40. Facing her first radiation treatment, she found herself wondering what to wear.
"The smart aleck in me thought, 'You don't wear a party dress,' " she said. "And the rebel in me thought, 'What if you do?' "
And so 33dresses (www.33dresses.com), the blog, was born.
Ms. Ashwood wore a different dress for each radiation treatment -- some she already owned and had special meaning, such as an heirloom dress worn by her grandmother. Some she bought at retail or secondhand stores. Some were given to her by friends and relatives, including one sent from Paris.
And the dresses, she said, aren't just dresses. They're a symbol of "breaking out the good stuff," and living well, in the moment.
"We're not waiting for the cancer to go away, the economy to get better or for all the lights to turn green," said Ms. Ashwood, a strategy consultant with two children. "We're rescuing dresses from the back of the closet, fancy glasses from the back of the cupboard and enjoying these things we already have to make new happy memories."
Her blog was picked up by some well-known cancer bloggers, and she began to receive pictures of people wearing dresses or other finery, to beautify cancer or whatever else was plaguing them.
In the course of dress shopping for her treatments, Ms. Ashwood came across a lush embroidered wedding gown and couldn't resist buying it. She decided to give it away in a contest, placing a flier and an entry box at Magee and advertising it on her blog.
She told those who might enter that they could use it to get married, to renew their vows or just to twirl in their living rooms. In the contest, she asked entrants to answer the question "What do you promise to love, honor and cherish in yourself?"
Ms. Ashwood finished her radiation treatments a week ago, and plans to continue wearing one dress a week in the spirit of the blog. After her last treatment, she did the drawing for the dress and made a phone call to the winner.
Ms. Kundman had accompanied a co-worker to her chemotherapy treatments at Magee and saw the contest entry box. A three-time cancer survivor herself, Ms. Kundman thought she would give it a shot.
Once upon a time, a contest like that, for a wedding dress she didn't need (she has been married for decades), probably wasn't something that she would have entered.
But cancer changes you, she said -- makes you more willing to try things that you wouldn't otherwise.
"I used to be one of those wimpy girls -- no more," said Ms. Kundman, a home-based Head Start teacher from New Eagle, Washington County. "It's all related to cancer."
Her personal mantra during her treatments was "to be the best that I could be every day," she said, but she sees the wisdom in Ms. Ashwood's appreciation of everyday beauty.
Arriving at Magee-Womens Hospital to receive the dress, she gamely put it on and paraded through the lobby -- even wearing it upstairs in hopes of finding her co-worker's cancer nurse. Normally reluctant to do public speaking, she drew smiles and cheers from patients as she and Ms. Ashwood explained to those waiting for treatment about the wedding dress and the contest.
She even has an occasion in mind for the dress: July 16, 1:30 p.m., for her next MRI cancer scan.
Anya Sostek: email@example.com or 412-263-1308.