Talk about turning it up a notch.

Paula O’Connor, a 41-year-old oncologist, will spend her evening on Feb. 27 gliding down a New York runway with the chance of landing a modeling contract and getting her share of more than $85,000 in prizes. The story of how O’Connor applied and became one of the 10 finalists for the More/Wilhelmina 40+ Model Search (sponsored by More magazine and the venerable Wilhelmina modeling agency) is moving and motivational.

Early last year, O’Connor was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a generally fatal muscle cancer. After months struggling to come to terms with the disease, she learned that she had been misdiagnosed and actually had another very rare ailment: leiomyomatosis, which involves the formation of multiple, but generally benign, tumors. As she explains in her interview with More, the entire ordeal gave O’Connor a renewed appreciation of life after 40:

Last year, I was very sick, and one of the things that I’ve learned is that you only get one go-around to make this life what you want it to be. So I wanted to try something that I had never done before. I think that the hardest part of being over 40 is that you’ve got all this life experience, and there are clearly some doors that seem like they’re closed, but it’s really up to you to try to open them.

On her way to the catwalk, O’Connor has taken an old-fashioned path to her beauty. Heather Madden of the San Francisco Chronicle writes:

Gina Barone, a Wilhelmina agent, said the company looks for natural beauties in the older market — women who exude health and vibrancy. In an era in which more and more women are turning to Botox and Restylane to look young, O’Connor is taking a more laid-back approach. Her fountain of youth? Moisturizer.

Visit More magazine for more information on the model search and to meet the other over-40-and-fabulous finalists.

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