The team walks in honor of Colleen and also in memory of Colleen’s older sister Junie, who passed away from ovarian cancer in 2014. Colleen was lucky that her illness was caught at an early stage, back in 2007. She experienced various symptoms and, after a procedure to address a ruptured cyst, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her sister Junie was diagnosed in 2010, but unfortunately the disease had already progressed to an advanced stage by then. With her family by her side, Junie fought bravely to the end.
Colleen and Maureen are committed to raising awareness of ovarian cancer, especially in Scranton. Both feel lucky to have had so many amazing ladies in their lives and think it’s important for all of us to do our part now so that women can stay healthy long into the future. That means telling every amazing lady about ovarian cancer®, educating them about signs and symptoms, and helping to raise funds—even replacing wedding favors with a donation. Through steps like these, we can move closer to early detection, better testing, and hopefully a cure.
Written by Jennifer Moon
Schern Yung is a world traveler, plain and simple. She’s doing what many of us only dream of: jetting across continents, leaving her comfort zone, seeing the sights, and turning her life into an adventure on a massive, global scale.
Feasting on Korean food in Seoul
Checking out Schwedagon Pagoda in Burma
Walking the Great Wall of China
Seeing terracotta warriors in Xi’an, China
Visiting the 233-ft tall Leshan Giant Buddha in Sichuan Province, China
Playing in the dunes at Worimi National Park near Newcastle, Australia
Exploring the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia
Hiking by waterfalls in El Nido, Philippines
Sampling local treats with friends in Hong Kong
Snowboarding in Whistler, Canada
Diving with bullsharks in Playa del Carmen, Mexico
And roaming the streets of Havana, Cuba
Where is this amazing lady going to travel next?
Written by Jennifer Moon
The procedure, which has been used since the 1980s, is very intense. First, the surgeon removes all visual evidence of tumors, sometimes including organs or sections of organs that the body can live without. In Rose’s case, more than 200 tumors, some tiny in size, were snipped out, along with her spleen, appendix, peritoneum and other organs.
After hours of carefully examining the abdominal organs for tumors, the surgeon then attempts to kill individual cancer cells that may remain using HIPEC, or a hot chemo bath. Chemotherapy drugs heated to nearly 108 degrees Fahrenheit are infused directly into the abdominal cavity for 90 minutes. Evidence suggests that heating chemotherapy in this way allows it to get deeper into the body’s tissues than drugs administered intravenously, thus increasing the likelihood of killing cancer cells. This is a form of cancer therapy that targets individual cells that may be floating around wreaking havoc, not just tumors attached to a blood supply.
This potentially lifesaving procedure regularly lasts 6-8 hours. Rose’s surgery took 12 hours, and she was in the hospital for 3 weeks. She came back little by little, slowly beginning to eat and walk again, until she was driving 3 months later.
It is important to note that this procedure is not considered standard treatment for Ovarian Cancer in the United States, so many women may not be aware of it. Still, it is available at more than 100 academic medical centers in this country, as well as in many European countries. The skill of the surgeon plays an enormous role in the success of the operation.
Rose encourages women who are interested in the procedure to do their research—to learn more about it by looking online and talking to their medical team. YouTube has many informative videos. Before choosing any surgeon, make sure to find out how many procedures the doctor has done and how well they have turned out.
Rose feels that God led her to choose this treatment option and helped her get her through it, and she is thankful to be enjoying life as much as she can now. In 2014, she retired from a career at a nonprofit agency, where she worked with people with disabilities for more than 24 years. Since she was 9 years old, she started sewing her own clothes. Her love of sewing led her to a second career in fashion design, and she started a company, called Loosey Goosey Couture, that makes comfortable, chic, flattering, and easy-to-wear tops and tunics for women. She also holds combined fundraisers and fashion shows, where a large portion of the proceeds from selling clothes goes to a nonprofit organization. Rose is planning an event of this kind to benefit ®T.E.A.L.
Her husband Johnny retired a few months ago, which has made their time together in New Jersey even nicer. They have a son who lives in Vermont with his wife and 3 children, including a brand new baby girl.A woman of faith, Rose does not consider herself especially brave or courageous in choosing to have the Sugarbaker procedure. But like all women with Ovarian Cancer, she is. Being diagnosed with a serious illness is a life-changing event, and it forces people to draw on reserves of strength they might not have known they had. Rose says, “My faith and prayers from my family and friends lifted me up and kept me there until I healed.” Rose is an amazing lady, especially in her determination to help others in a similar situation and to let them know about an important treatment option that could potentially give women many more years of life.
Written by Jennifer Moon
Ronni and Richard Gorman were childhood sweethearts. The loves of each other’s lives, they started dating at the age of 16 and were married for 43 years. When Ronni died from primary peritoneal cancer, which is treated exactly like Ovarian Cancer, on January 23, 2016, it was a terrible loss for Richard, his two sons, Jeff and Mike, and their wives, Marne and Jessica. Every day they remember her strength and courage in the face of adversity—and in doing so, pay loving tribute to a remarkable and truly amazing woman.
Ronni beat the odds in her fight against this terrible disease. Originally given a life expectancy of 3-5 years after diagnosis, she went on to live 12½ years, marching in 6 ®T.E.A.L. walks, attending the weddings of her two sons, and seeing the birth of her four grandchildren.
Her first grandchild became the namesake of the family’s team at the First Annual ®T.E.A.L. Walk in 2009, Brady’s Brigade. As grandsons Blake and Dylan were born, the team became the Gorman Boys, and with the birth of granddaughter Hayley, finally the Gorman Gang, a name that the team keeps today and into the foreseeable future. For the six years she walked in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, Ronni was able to be festive and enjoy seeing all the family and friends who came out to support her, as well as all the other women battling the disease.
As a strong, kind, warm, and friendly woman, Ronni was uniquely private about her health. Each year, she loved being a part of the ®T.E.A.L. Walk, but she never wanted the focus of attention to be on her and her struggles with various cancers. Instead, she just wanted to have a good time, get some exercise, and raise as much money as possible for Ovarian Cancer research and awareness. The cause was equally important to her sons and their wives, who involved numerous friends and colleagues in the event. Marne was the instigator who discovered ®T.E.A.L. eight years ago. One year, the Gorman family was pleased to be ®T.E.A.L.’s top fundraising team. And Ronni was especially proud of her sons’ and daughter in-laws’ efforts to honor her and her bravery.
Today, one word stands out when Richard, Jeff, and Mike speak about Ronni: she was a warrior. According to Richard, she went through a total of approximately 150 chemotherapy treatments. She was first diagnosed with stage III peritoneal cancer, a rare cancer that is treated in the same way as Ovarian Cancer, during a routine procedure to remove an ovarian cyst. She underwent four abdominal surgeries over the twelve years, but the cancer was extremely aggressive to the point that a full remission was not in the cards. The disease transformed into a chronic illness with Ronni generally in treatment the entire twelve years. The cancer ultimately spread to her brain and developed in her tongue, neck, and lymph nodes, probably as a result of the accumulated toxicity of so much chemotherapy. Eventually she needed a graft from her leg to reconstruct part of her tongue that was lost to the disease. Towards the end of her life, she stayed at a free facility for cancer patients in Manhattan during the week, so that she could receive regular treatment at the hospital. On the weekends, she returned to Long Island to rejoin Richard.
Throughout the Warrior’s battle, Ronni remained completely dedicated to her family and was determined to stay alive in order to enjoy as much time with her children and grandchildren as possible. For more than a decade, she fought to keep the disease in check and to carry on as she had before her diagnosis. That meant cooking large holiday meals for her family from scratch, starting weeks before the event and freezing food in advance. It also meant remaining extremely close to her tight-knit group of friends whom she loved like sisters. And it meant being the person in the community to whom neighbors would turn for advice—the one, for instance, who could be counted on to help choose a wedding dress.
A wonderful mother, grandmother, wife, sister, and friend, Ronni was artistic, well spoken, and smart. Every single day, her husband and sons remember how much she taught them and enriched their lives with her presence. They are reminded of her in so many ways and feel her watching over them. While incredibly difficult, their mother’s experience showed Jeff and Mike what is truly important in life: to recognize how precious our time here on earth really is, not to get worked up about trivial concerns, and not to take anything for granted.
The Annual ®T.E.A.L. Walk has been an important part of the Gorman family’s lives since the beginning, and this year will be no exception. On September 10, the Gorman Gang will be bigger than ever, with as many of Ronni’s family and friends as possible gathering to walk in memory of an amazing lady and a life well lived.
Written by Jennifer Moon
This year the 2nd Annual Whitesboro ®T.E.A.L. Walk for Ovarian Cancer Awareness will be held on September 10, 2016. It’s organized by an amazing mother-daughter pair, Donna and Sarah Firsching, who were inspired to create the first walk of its kind in the area outside Utica, New York. With the help of many dedicated volunteers, including Ovarian Cancer survivors Adeline VanDyke and Sabrina Fryman, they are determined to turn the event into something big—a fitting tribute to their mother and grandmother, Margaret Rose Manganaro, and a way to inform as many people as possible about the disease.
Margaret, who was originally from England, was a very family-oriented person who raised a son and two daughters, including Donna, with a husband in the military. An extremely positive person who always bonded with others, she worshipped her six grandchildren and was especially close to Sarah, the only girl of the bunch. At the age of 66, Margaret received a shocking diagnosis of stage IV Ovarian Cancer during a hysterectomy. Although the disease was aggressive, she lived another four years, remaining upbeat and optimistic right through hospice care.
(Sarah Firsching and her “Nana,” Margaret Rose Manganaro)
Sarah was a teenager when her grandmother died in March 2009 and grew up participating in many health awareness walks with her family. When she realized how few Ovarian Cancer resources were available in her community, she decided to create a ®T.E.A.L. Walk in Whitesboro to raise awareness and encourage early detection. She reached out to ®T.E.A.L. and worked closely with its executive director, Pamela Esposito-Amery, to create one of numerous ®T.E.A.L. satellite walks that take place throughout the US. Sarah’s mother was immediately behind her, and together they worked as a team to enlist volunteers and build up local support.
Held on October 3, 2015 at the Whitestown Town Park, the first walk was a huge success, drawing 100 participants and raising more than $5,000. Music from a DJ set an energetic tone, while people entered raffles to win prizes including spa and wine baskets, summer fun packages, and tattoos. Five survivors participated in the event, and the park was decorated with festive, informative signs about Ovarian Cancer symptoms.
One survivor heard about the walk on the radio and called the local police department to find out where it was taking place. Coincidentally, the police officer who took her call had lost his mother to Ovarian Cancer and was eager to help. The woman made it to the walk and participated in the survivors’ ceremony, giving a touching and impromptu speech about how her cancer had unfortunately just returned the week before. The police department decided to become officially involved with the walk this year and is also forming its own team to participate.
(1st Annual Whitesboro ®T.E.A.L. Walk, October 3, 2015)
Donna could not be any more proud of her daughter Sarah for spearheading the Whitesboro ®T.E.A.L. Walk and wanting to honor her Nana in this outstanding way. Since graduating from college in 2011, Sarah has been working in sales at a health insurance company. Organizing an event on the scale of the 2015 walk was a first-time experience for her. And she’s very much looking forward to the 2016 event—and to working with her mother and their cadre of volunteers to make it even bigger and better than before.
One of those volunteers is Sabrina Fryman, who finds a huge source of support in being involved with the Whitesboro ®T.E.A.L. Walk. She greatly enjoys participating in the grassroots campaign to promote and coordinate the event, including planning fundraisers, going storefront to storefront to enlist local support, and appearing on the radio to publicize the event.
A survivor of stage Ic Ovarian Cancer, Sabrina is committed to community outreach about the disease. She’s also a dedicated runner. After cancer surgery, she started training for her first half marathon as soon as she got medical clearance. Her experience gave her the strength to push through, and she continues to run today, meeting her running partner at 5 am before going to work.
When she's not running or walking for Ovarian Cancer, Sabrina works full-time as an accountant, part-time at a children’s clothing store, and part-time as a professional placement job recruiter and business consultant. She’s also earning her second master’s degree in strategic human resource management, while raising a 15-year-old daughter who is a cheerleader in high school.
( Sabrina (middle) with her daughter Ella and husband David)
®T.E.AL. is incredibly proud of the work that Sarah, Donna, Sabrina, and all the Whitesboro volunteers are doing in upstate New York. All too often, Ovarian Cancer doesn’t get the attention that it should. It’s important for everyone to be aware of Ovarian Cancer, its signs, and symptoms and for women facing the disease to receive the support they need. The amazing ladies in Whitesboro wear teal bracelets every day, and people stop to ask about them all the time. With each conversation, they help to educate the community around them. And with each ®T.E.A.L. walk that is organized in places like Whitesboro, the closer we come to making all of our communities warmer and more supportive places for those touched by Ovarian Cancer.
Written by Jennifer Moon
After Nancy Irizarry was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she began volunteering to help other women facing the disease. She participated in ®T.E.A.L.’s annual walks in Brooklyn, bringing together teams of up to 75 people to support her and help raise money for ovarian cancer research.
Still, she wanted to do more—especially for people in her own neighborhood. There weren’t any walks for ovarian cancer in Woodbury, New York, located about 55 miles outside of New York City. So, working with ®T.E.A.L., Nancy decided to create her own.
(This butterfly, which also includes the name of ®T.E.A.L. co-founder Louisa McGregor, inspired Nancy to create her own ®T.E.A.L. Walk.)
The First Annual Woodbury Parks and Recreation Dept. ®T.E.A.L. Walk, held on September 29, 2013, was also ®T.E.A.L.’s first satellite walk ever. A great success, it was followed up the next year with an even bigger walk that included nearly 200 participants and raised over $12,000 for ovarian cancer awareness and research.
(Joan Shuart, who recently passed away, and Nancy at a Cheese Festival to promote the 2nd Annual Woodbury Parks and Recreation Dept. ®T.E.A.L. Walk, September 2014)
Nancy planned to continue the tradition with additional walks in Woodbury, but ended up moving to a different town. Still, her legacy lives on, as others follow her example and organize ®T.E.A.L. satellite walks in locations across the United States, including in Connecticut, Georgia, Alabama, and Pennsylvania.
Planning those first two walks in Woodbury was an entirely new experience for Nancy. She had previously worked as a sales person at an insurance company and was familiar with cold calling. Putting together a community event, however, meant going door to door throughout the neighborhood to ask for help, organizing outreach and education tables, and managing a lot of logistics.
(Neighbor Kayla Caprara and Nancy at a Community Connection Business Expo, April 2015)
Yet Nancy was determined to do all she could to support other women like her who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and to tell every amazing lady about the disease.
Like many others, Nancy was shocked to discover that she had ovarian cancer. Although she had been experiencing vague symptoms for a year, her doctor thought they were due to stress at work or to early menopause. Her levels of CA125, which can sometimes indicate the presence of ovarian cancer, were normal.
It was not until Nancy was admitted to the emergency room with severe pain on the left side of her back that doctors detected ovarian cancer, as well as a cyst on her aorta. She was transferred to the hospital and waited a week until the complicated surgery to remove both the ovarian cancer and the cyst could be performed.
Thankfully, the operation was a success. Since that time, now almost ten years ago, Nancy has discovered that she has a rare form of ovarian cancer, called a granulosa cell tumor, which is characterized by multiple recurrences. Each time the cancer comes back, she can be cured with chemotherapy and radiation. She’s already had four recurrences, the most recent in January 2014.
Despite these challenges, Nancy is a truly amazing lady. Starting in 2007, she began volunteering with the Woman to Woman program, where she visits with other gynecologic cancer patients and gives them hope, support, and understanding. She’s also been a volunteer with ®T.E.A.L. since its earliest days. In addition to launching the Woodbury ®T.E.A.L. Walk, she is involved in many other ®T.E.A.L. activities and was featured as a model in its 2014 MTA subway and bus advertising campaign. Nancy will also be featured in an upcoming ®T.E.A.L. PSA video.
(Nancy, upper left)
Today, Nancy is doing well and is thankful for the love and support of her husband, Jose , and her 32-year-old son, Nelson. She wants to tell every amazing lady to take notice of their bodies, to listen to their bodies, and if there’s anything unusual that lasts for longer than two weeks, to go get it checked.
Thank you to Nancy for all the amazing work she’s doing on behalf of ®T.E.A.L. and ovarian cancer.
(Team Fancy Nancy, with 50 of Nancy’s friends and family, at the 2015 ®T.E.A.L. Walk in Brooklyn)
On September 12, 2015, the day of ®T.E.A.L.’s 7th Annual Walk/Run, Diane returned to visit her childhood neighborhood of Park Slope for the first time in 27 years. The occasion was especially meaningful because she had also battled Ovarian Cancer two years before and was glad to be raising awareness along with other survivors and amazing ladies.
Diane grew up near Prospect Park, taking violin lessons at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Her family moved to New Jersey in 1973, although they returned to visit her grandmother until 1988. Even though Diane has lived most of her life in New Jersey, she still considers Brooklyn to be her home base and is proud to be a Brooklyn girl.
(Diane and friends outside her childhood home)
On the morning of the walk, she woke up filled with mixed emotions. She drove into Brooklyn with a few of her friends, and it was just like riding a bike. She hadn’t forgotten how to get there.
Walking into Prospect Park brought back beautiful memories of her childhood with her parents and grandmother, who have all since passed away. She stood watching all of the survivors of Ovarian Cancer and the signs and shirts honoring those who have been lost, while also remembering how she used to play in the park and go sledding during the winter. Overwhelmed with emotion, she thanked God for giving her the gift of life and allowing her the opportunity to see her old neighborhood again.
After the walk, Diane and her friends took photos in front of her former brownstone home on Garfield Place, stopped by PS 321 where she attended kindergarten, saw St. Francis Xavier where she was baptized and went to school until the 4th grade, and had lunch at Pino’s Pizzeria, an old haunt. One of the best moments was when two young women from a ®T.E.A.L. team, Katie’s Good Eggs, saw them trying to take a selfie in front of her grandmother's old apartment over Tarzian Hardware and stopped to take their picture. ®T.E.A.L. brought Diane back to Brooklyn, and it was an experience she will never forget.
Today, two years after being diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, Diane’s life is coming full circle in more ways than one. As a young high school graduate, she had hoped to become an arts therapist, but financially it didn’t make sense at the time. For many years, she worked as an administrative assistant to make a living, while raising her two daughters, Rachel and Sarah, who are now 20 and 25. And she continued to pursue her love of art by painting and doing pencil portraits.
In 2009, Diane decided to take her dreams to the next level and enrolled in a visual arts associate’s program at Raritan Valley Community College. Although she had to take two years off because of Hurricane Irene and chemotherapy, she is now enjoying being in school in the evenings. A recent photo project she created won best in show at her college, and she is working in new media, including graphics, sculpture, metalwork, and figure drawing.
For all the amazing ladies who are fighting Ovarian Cancer, Diane wants them to know that we are a lot stronger than we give ourselves credit for. Never give up, and reach out to the great network of survivors and supporters who exist.For the amazing ladies who are healthy: always get yourselves checked—there’s a reason that annual doctor’s visits are recommended. Listen to your body, and don’t ignore anything that doesn’t seem right.
And for the amazing ladies and supporters trying to raise awareness for ovarian cancer: Let’s push for more screening and early detection. We need more advocates fighting the fight.
Ten years ago Robin Akdeniz confronted some of the biggest challenges she’s ever faced—and then completely transformed her life after getting through them. First, her mother Bonnie passed away at the age of 69 following multiple recurrences of breast cancer. Then she lost the second most important person in her life, her grandmother Helen, to kidney cancer a few months later. Heartbroken, her grandfather passed away shortly thereafter. And then Robin was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, a decade after having already battled breast cancer.
Robin was 39 when she had her initial struggle with breast cancer, back in 1996. She had recently adopted two young daughters from Turkey, and with her husband’s support, decided to undergo very aggressive treatment—a double mastectomy followed by chemo. Fortunately, the cancer has never returned.
When her mother’s health began to fail a decade later, Robin had genetic testing and found out that she was positive for an abnormal BRCA1 gene, which greatly increases risk for breast and Ovarian Cancers. Having already fought breast cancer, she planned to reduce her odds of developing Ovarian Cancer by having preventive surgery to remove her ovaries—a procedure called an oophorectomy. Yet she and her sisters were focused on caring for their mother in her time of need, so the surgery was temporarily delayed.
When Robin’s mother died in August 2005, it was the first major loss that she had experienced, and her world turned upside down. When both of her maternal grandparents passed away soon thereafter, Robin was left stranded in grief, struggling to make sense of what had just happened.
At the beginning of 2006, Robin started to feel physically uncomfortable, but wasn’t particularly concerned. Always careful to schedule doctor’s appointments and follow-ups, she noted some bloating and a loss of appetite. For example, she and her husband attended a cooking class for Valentine’s Day, where they learned how to use chocolate in recipes. Though a big lover of chocolate, Robin could not muster up much of an appetite. On another occasion, she wore a long dress to an Academy Awards party and was puzzled as to why she seemed to be gaining weight despite not eating very much.Robin saw her gynecologist, who thought that she had a ruptured uterine fibroid. She went in for a routine hysterectomy and woke up three days later to a diagnosis of stage IIIc Ovarian Cancer. Though devastated, Robin did what she needed to do because of her family. Like a solider, without hesitation, she decided to undergo intraperitoneal chemotherapy—administered directly into the abdominal cavity—because she wanted the best treatment possible. It was an ordeal—but Robin came through the other side, and the experience ended up changing her life.
Now Robin doesn’t take anything for granted—particularly things like the color of the sky, the presence of butterflies, or the smell of flowers. She appreciates life more fully and doesn’t get caught up in minutiae anymore.
(Robin and her husband Yujel)
And after five years living cancer-free, Robin decided she wanted to do something especially meaningful in her life. While her kids were growing up, she had been very involved in their academic and extracurricular activities. As she faced an empty nest, she went back to school at the age of 54 and earned a Master’s degree in Social Work. Determined to give back after having twice survived cancer, she started working in substance abuse, co-authored a book chapter with a former professor, and was invited to teach at Florida Atlantic University as an adjunct professor in social work.
Today Robin, a truly amazing lady, is a licensed clinical social worker who sees clients privately as a psychotherapist. She’s also in her first semester of a full-time PhD program in marriage and family therapy, and she hopes to complete her degree in four years. In her research and practice, she focuses on the importance of family. And her daughters are doing great—Rebecca is in her second year of law school in LA, while Caroline is a junior in college, studying counseling psychology in Boston.
(Yujel, Robin, Caroline, and Rebecca)
Robin became involved with ®T.E.A.L. recently at its 7th Annual Walk/Run in Prospect Park. Her sister, Jill Weinshank, who lives in New York, was also diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer several months ago, despite having previously received negative results on the BRCA test. While Jill was undergoing treatment, her children organized a team of friends and relatives to participate in the ®T.E.A.L. walk. Robin flew up from Florida for the event and was delighted to learn more about ®T.E.A.L. after she arrived.
(Robin and Jill at the ®T.E.A.L. walk)
Cancer has touched Robin and many of her family members, but on a day-to-day basis, she remains very focused on living. She looks forward to March 1, 2016—her tenth anniversary of being cancer-free. She believes that her sister Jill will get through her treatment for Ovarian Cancer in the same way that she did herself. And as she tells her clients in therapy, the only thing you can be sure of is that you’re here now—and while you’re here, you have to try to be the fullest person that you can be.
Written by Jennifer Moon
Liz Tsaoussis is beating the odds. Initially diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer almost four years ago, she has not let her intensive rounds of chemotherapy stop her from living life out loud. A 57-year-old native New Yorker, she continues to work as Director of IT and Office Manager at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. She makes an extra effort to spend time with her family and friends, especially her children Eva and George. Additionally, she also works part-time at a dog day care, is a passionate advocate for animals and shelter dogs, and has a German Shepherd rescue named Taki.
Liz believes her strong and unfailingly positive attitude, along with some ancient Greek Warrior genetics and an outstanding oncology team, are a fighting combination. As she says, “Cancer is only going to be a small chapter in my life and not the whole story, probably just a footnote.” In early 2015, she told her story in the following blog post:
Lines, Rounds, & Treatments These three words have been thrust into my vocabulary these last three years. They have taken on a whole new meaning. Lines, Rounds, Treatments. This day 3 years ago my life was given back to me but with a short lease. I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer stage IIIc2—eight hours on the operating table with a surgeon who was meticulous, finding every little piece of tumor growth he could; even called in a cardiothoracic surgeon when he discovered a mass wrapping itself around my inferior vena cava, its precarious position was more of an immediate threat to my life than the rampant cancer. Had it not been discovered, hiding away from the surgeon’s direct sightline, I would have been dead by September.
I am still here.
I am ignoring the survival rate percentages. Looking down the barrel of a ten year maximum anyone has survived my stage with remissions. . . I am remissionless. . .I am stubborn, my body is strong, my cancer is more obstinate and very smart—genetically shifting once it figures out the attacking chemical. It wants to survive…I want to survive…I am in a battle of will with my own body.
During her first round of chemo, Liz began photographing her eyes to help her in applying makeup and brows. The below series of photos evolved into a poignant art piece about the strength of a soul, as seen through the eyes of a warrior. The piece captures good days, fun days, and days that courage refused to bend cancer.
During chemo, you're more tired than you've ever been. It's like a cloud passing over the sun, and suddenly you're out. You don't know how you'll answer the door when your groceries are delivered. But you also find that you're stronger than you've ever been. You're clear. Your mortality is at optimal distance, not up so close that it obscures everything else, but close enough to give you depth perception. Previously, it has taken you weeks, months, or years to discover the meaning of an experience. Now it's instantaneous.
Liz initially found out about ®T.E.A.L. through one of her children and participated in her first walk with ®T.E.A.L. in 2013. She also formed Team Artemis and marched the following year. More recently, she attended the Meredith Vieira Show with ®T.E.A.L. on October 15, 2015. She was delighted to meet other amazing ladies like herself, who are battling Ovarian Cancer and finding many ways to inspire others through their courage, creativity, and love of life.
Written by Jennifer Moon & Liz Tsaoussis
Until she was 46 years old, Simone lived what she considered a very normal life. A former college basketball player at Syracuse University, she enjoys playing racquetball and works as a probation officer. Out of the blue, she began experiencing excruciating pain in her abdomen three years ago. Her doctors detected a mass that needed to be removed, but no one suspected anything like cancer. Simone went for what she thought would be a routine outpatient procedure. The day after she woke up from what turned out to be an 8-hour surgery, her doctor gave her shocking, life-altering news.
It was an enormous blow to her and her family, especially her sister Vanessa. Still, Simone decided to grab the bull by the horns and do what she needed to do. Despite her emotional turmoil and the physical destruction throughout New York, she began battling the disease with her family and friends by her side. Vanessa in particular promises to do anything she can to help support her sister. And through prayer, Simone finds the strength to go through treatment.
Simone first learned about ®T.E.A.L. through a support group. In 2014, the day before the 6th Annual ®T.E.A.L. Walk in Brooklyn, she decided to participate and walked with her friend Linda Hill in Prospect Park. Although the event was emotionally challenging, Simone also had a great time and learned a lot.
(Simone, right, with Linda at the 6th Annual ®T.E.A.L. Walk in 2014)This year Simone wanted to go a step farther. She formed Team Simone in order to spread the word about ovarian cancer and raise money for research. Nearly 25 people joined her team, which raised about $4,400 to benefit ®T.E.A.L. What is especially impressive is that Simone organized her team in just three weeks, while also undergoing treatment.
(Team Simone at the 7th Annual ®T.E.A.L. Walk in Brooklyn in 2015. Left photo with Simone in the center.)A week later, Vanessa formed Team Simone at the 2nd Annual ®T.E.A.L. Walk in Savannah, Georgia. Unable to attend the Brooklyn event because another sister was renewing her wedding vows on the same day, she decided to honor her sister by extending Team Simone across the country. A total of 24 people wore teal backpacks, bracelets, and bandannas, and Vanessa’s husband grilled food while motivational and uplifting music played in the background.
(Team Simone at the 2nd Annual ®T.E.A.L. Walk in Savannah in 2015. Right photo with Vanessa being interviewed on the right.)
Both events—the walk in Brooklyn and the one in Savannah—were an enormous success for Team Simone and a powerful tribute to an amazing lady.Simone and Vanessa look forward to continuing the Team Simone tradition in years to come and to walking together in Brooklyn. And although it took some time before Simone was able to talk about her experience with ovarian cancer, now she hopes that her story will be an inspiration for other women going through the same thing. And with an amazing story like hers, her dream is sure to become a reality.
Written by Jennifer Moon
“A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.”
And sometimes ovarian cancer can also bring family closer.
Katie Goldberg and her sister Judy Leavey became very close after they lost their mother, Isabella Friedland, thirty-five years ago. And Katie’s daughters, Lisa and Abbe, have become even better friends after their mother passed away eight years ago.
Both pairs of sisters lost their mothers all too soon. But now, the family is committed to telling every amazing lady about ovarian cancer. They know how important it is to stay on top of your health, visit the doctor regularly, and catch symptoms as soon as they appear. Today women are living much longer after being diagnosed, especially if the disease is detected early.
Katie and Judy, the first pair of sisters, grew up in Flushing, Queens in the 1960s. Their mother Isabella was a stay-at-home mom, which was very common to the era, extremely devoted to her family, especially her daughters. About a year before she and her husband moved to Florida to retire in 1980, she noticed that something was wrong. Her doctor examined her gastrointestinal system with X-rays, but couldn’t find anything. When she got to Florida, she continued seeing doctors. CT scans were just starting to be used at the time, and results from one test led to a recommendation that she have a hysterectomy. After the surgeons started the procedure, they found the cancer, which was already at an advanced stage. Despite receiving chemotherapy, Isabella tragically passed away five months later at the age of 62. Katie and Judy were in their twenties.
Jack and Isabella Friedland (c. 1950s)
Katie went on to become a well-respected lawyer in Long Island, while Judy moved to a town outside of Boston and became a teacher. Both were active in their communities and volunteered regularly, and each had two daughters. And every year, Katie and Judy had blood tests to monitor their levels of CA125, a protein that can indicate the presence of ovarian cancer.
When she was forty-seven, Katie began experiencing vague symptoms, but she thought they were just a part of getting older. Often the signs of ovarian cancer can be subtle. Stomach trouble, bloating, cramps—many women experience this kind of discomfort as just a normal part of everyday life. In the summer of 2001, Katie was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She consulted with multiple doctors to make sure that she was getting the best treatment possible, although she refused to let cancer become the center of her life.
A caring and intelligent woman who never sought out fanfare, Katie continued working until shortly before she passed away and remained very private and optimistic about her health. Most people didn’t realize how sick Katie was, and she tried to shield her family from everything that was going on with her treatment. She continued to focus her attention on her daughters, Lisa and Abbe, whom she loved fiercely. Whenever one of her children called or came home from school, she would make a point to spend time with them and sound just like herself, no matter how tired she was from chemo. A beautiful person inside and out, her most important priority was that her daughters felt loved, supported, and encouraged to do what they loved.
Lisa, Abbe, and Katie Goldberg (2006)
For five and a half years, Katie did everything she could to fight ovarian cancer and live her life. She continued to be actively involved in the PTA, a member of her temple board, and a devoted friend, sister, and mother. She passed away in February 2007.
Lisa and Abbe were very young when they lost their mother—Lisa was a sophomore in college, and Abbe was a senior in high school. When they heard about T.E.A.L. in 2011, they quickly became involved because this was a chance to do something proactive about a disease that had made them feel so powerless when their mother was sick. T.E.A.L.’s annual walk and 5K run gave them an opportunity to raise money for ovarian cancer research and honor their mom with family and friends.
Lisa, Abbe, and Judy co-captain Katie’s Good Eggs, now in its fifth year, and plan to participate with about 25 members at T.E.A.L.’s 7th annual walk on September 12, 2015 in Prospect Park. Since they started participating in the walk, the team has raised a total of $18,000 for ovarian cancer research, and they hope to surpass $20,000 this fall. Lisa and Abbe use social media to reach out to their friends to let them know about ovarian cancer, share stories about their mom, and spread the word about the T.E.A.L. Walk. Judy, her husband, and her daughters Bethany and Jennifer drive down from Boston for the event every year, and family and friends from nearby and as far as Buffalo travel to participate in the event. And every year, the team goes out to lunch afterward to celebrate their hard work, a successful walk, and the woman who is at the center of it all: Katie.
Lisa, Judy, and Abbe at the 6th Annual T.E.A.L. Walk
Today Lisa and Abbe, who are two years apart in age and both live in Park Slope, are even closer than when they were growing up. Lisa works in social media at an ad agency, and Abbe is an assistant editor of children’s books at a publishing company, working with picture books through young adult. They remember their mother as a superwoman—a person who could do no wrong—and look forward to honoring her memory each February around her birthday and each September at the annual T.E.A.L. walks.Lisa and Abbe like working with T.E.A.L. because it’s a local, up-and-coming organization that is growing along with them. They especially appreciate how its CEO and co-founder, Pamela Esposito-Amery, knows so many of the walk’s participants and their stories. Their aunt Judy has been involved with many ovarian cancer organizations, including the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, Ovations for the Cure of Ovarian Cancer, and the Ovarian Cancer Brigade, and she finds many different ways to help and support women with ovarian cancer. Her goal is to increase awareness about ovarian cancer and promote early detection so that every amazing lady can live longer lives.
Judy, Lisa, and Abbe have all been profoundly affected by ovarian cancer. But they have refused to let their experience stop them. And together they are reaching out to help other women affected by the disease and are building an even bigger and stronger family than they had before.
Katie’s Good Eggs at the 6th Annual T.E.A.L. Walk
Written by Jennifer Moon
Now 57, Lenny describes his mother Dolores as a beautiful, loving, and independent woman. Although she has developed Alzheimer’s disease over the past few years, her story of survival against the odds is an inspiration to women struggling to overcome ovarian cancer today.
Born on May 29, 1928, Dolores Vitale Greco spent her working career as a nurse. Her husband was a surgeon who also owned Italian restaurants in Brooklyn and Queens. Lenny, an only child, is shown here in 1963 with his mother at one of his dad’s restaurants.
Dolores was diagnosed with ovarian cancer while in her early 50s. Lenny was in Cape Cod for the summer and received a phone call from his grandmother to come home to New York. When he arrived, his grandmother, who was also a nurse, told him that his mother looked nine months pregnant. It turned out that Dolores was retaining fluid in her abdomen because of ovarian cancer.
Dolores began chemotherapy, but did not respond well to it. She had a golf ball-sized tumor that doctors informed her was “spreading like crabgrass.” She was given only a month or so to live, and her family was advised to start making preparations for her passing. Frustrated and unable to understand what was going on, Lenny took his mother’s hospital chart home with him to try to make sense of a horrible situation.
The turning point came when Dolores’ oncologist suggested that she try an experimental drug. Her oncologist was committed to treating women with ovarian cancer, but most of her patients in the early 1980s didn’t survive because of a lack of effective therapies. She had met with some success when giving patients in China a new drug that contained platinum. Even though this medication was not sanctioned in the United States at the time, Dolores agreed to give it a try.
Yet the operation proved to be an unqualified success. The surgeon, who happened to be a close family friend, told the Grecos that Dolores was completely healed, saying, “She’s a virgin inside.” He had left one healthy ovary intact, and Dolores never underwent another surgery or round of chemotherapy again.
For the following 30+ years, Dolores has remained cancer-free. Her courage in deciding to try an experimental drug, at a time when options were limited, is especially noteworthy and should give hope to patients nowadays who are interested in enrolling in clinical trials. After her amazing recovery, she began accompanying the oncologist who had saved her life at lectures to let researchers know about the experimental drug she had tried. Since that time, platinum-based chemotherapy has become part of the standard treatment for women with ovarian cancer.
A naturally thin woman, Dolores lost about thirty pounds during her battle with ovarian cancer. As she recovered from the ordeal, she was delighted to discover that her hair was coming back with more body and with ringlets at the back. She is shown here in 1993, about 8 years after her initial diagnosis
Dolores was diagnosed at a time when our understanding of the genetics of ovarian cancer was still in its infancy. Since Dolores and her husband both worked in medicine, they tried to live very healthily, took a holistic view towards health, and always ate fresh food. Dolores’ one vice was smoking, but it seems possible that genetics played a role in her disease. Many years later, Dolores’ younger sister also developed ovarian cancer. She fought hard while undergoing multiple operations and rounds of chemotherapy, but ultimately passed away. Lenny’s cousin has also recently developed ovarian cancer, in conjunction with other serious medical problems.
Women with a strong family history of ovarian and/or breast cancer should consider genetic testing to determine whether they have a mutation in the BRCA gene or carry the gene for hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer. While Dolores’ story is proof positive that women can survive ovarian cancer for three decades or longer, genetic testing can help catch the disease early on, when the chances for long-term survival are much higher.
Dolores is an inspiration to us all, and we hope that you will ®TELL EVERY AMAZING LADY about her extraordinary story.
Written by Jennifer Moon
Music played a huge role in Andrea “Annie” Roberts’ life. According to her sister-in-law, Dr. Andrea Silverstein, Annie had a voice like an angel. She liked all kinds of music, ranging from Barbra Streisand to classical to soft rock. Her sister Marci remembers her as a child serenading her extended family from a balcony overlooking her grandmother’s dining room while everyone was seated for holiday meals. As an adult, Annie worked as a music teacher, before becoming a music director at a private school. And when she first met her husband Michael, a composer for musical theater, television, and film, the two immediately bonded over music. They soon found that they shared other interests as well, including traveling, animals, and good food and wine. Michael always asked Annie to weigh in on his latest musical compositions, and by all accounts, the two were perfect together.
Annie had a great sense of humor, a real inner beauty, and a lot of common sense.She was extremely close to her sister Marci, brother-in-law David, and their three daughters Laurel, Audrey, and Rachel. She was also very close to her two sisters-in-law, Babette and Andrea, who lived nearby in New York.She formed special bonds with Andrea’s daughters, Hailey and Amanda, and two young nephews, Bennet and Brent, who adored her.Two cats and two dogs rounded out Annie and Michael’s close-knit family.
When Annie was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2011 at the age of 41, it was a case of genetic bad luck. Annie was very health-conscious, ate well, and exercised regularly. She and Michael were preparing to visit Michael’s parents in Las Vegas when she went to the emergency room with what she thought was a stomach virus. The doctors also believed that she was suffering from a simple gastrointestinal problem, but they soon discovered that she had stage IV ovarian cancer.
Soon thereafter, Annie had genetic testing and found out that she had a mutation in BRCA2, one of the two BRCA genes known to increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 account for about 5-10% of all breast cancers and 15% of all ovarian cancers. People who have a BRCA mutation are five times more likely to develop breast cancer and ten to thirty times more likely to develop ovarian cancer. This means that women with a harmful BRCA mutation have a 55-65% chance of developing breast cancer and an 11-39% chance of developing ovarian cancer before the age of 70. Women with an Ashkenazi Jewish background are more likely to have a BRCA mutation compared to those in the general population.
The cost of genetic testing varies and may sometimes be covered by insurance. Some women who have tested positive for a BRCA mutation may choose to have preventive surgery to reduce their chance of developing cancer in the breasts or ovaries. Angelina Jolie is a very public figure with a BRCA mutation who recently opted to have a double mastectomy to remove both of her breasts. Other women may consider a salpingo-oophorectomy, which removes the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Although these surgeries can prevent cancer from developing in many women with BRCA mutations, they do not entirely eliminate the risk of cancer since not all of the potentially vulnerable tissue can be removed. Still, had Annie Roberts known earlier in her life that she carried a BRCA2 mutation, she may well have opted to undergo one of these procedures. And she would have wanted to tell every amazing lady with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer to get genetically tested.After her diagnosis, Annie fought for almost three years. She underwent two surgeries and multiple chemotherapy treatments, and she enrolled in a clinical trial to test an experimental drug with chemotherapy in Maryland. She started hospice care at home on February 1, 2014 and maintained her strong sense of self during the last weeks of her life. She let visitors know that she would enjoy flowers to decorate her room, kept her cats and dogs in bed with her, and organized her own memorial. She chose the songs she wanted played and the format of the program. The entire family helped plan a memorial that met Annie’s wishes. On February 15, she passed away at the age of 43. The memorial services were well attended by Annie’s family, friends, colleagues, students and their families. The biodegradable urn containing Annie’s ashes was placed in the ground to fertilize a tree at the animal shelter where Annie and Michael adopted their dogs.
After Annie’s passing, her family’s involvement with ®T.E.A.L. continued.Annie had initially found out about ®T.E.A.L. after her diagnosis, and she was able to participate in two of ®T.E.A.L.’s annual walks as part of Team Annie, with her sister-in-law Babette serving as team captain.In 2014, her sister-in-law Andrea launched an annual fundraising event for ®T.E.A.L. to honor Annie’s memory. An administrator at a middle school, she got her students involved by talking to them about ovarian cancer, chemotherapy, and the experience of Annie passing away in an effort to raise awareness. The students were very curious to learn more about the disease, and about 30% wore clothes with the color teal to school to support ovarian cancer research and Andrea’s fundraising event. Team Annie was able to raise an impressive $2,700 to benefit ®T.E.A.L.And in September 2014, Annie’s family and friends participated in their third ®T.E.A.L. walk/run for ovarian cancer.Without Annie’s physical presence there to sustain them, it was a bittersweet occasion.
The fundraising event that Andrea is organizing
this year is an especially fitting tribute to Annie and her love of music.The Metro Parrot Heads, made up of fans of
Jimmy Buffett who are interested in charitable activities and like to have a
good time, is the sponsor.In the past,
the group has supported other causes including Big Brothers Big Sisters, cystic
fibrosis, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, autism awareness, and fundraising
for those affected by Superstorm Sandy.This year’s fundraiser for ®T.E.A.L. will take place on May 8, 2015 at
Callahan’s on 1964 Hempstead Turnpike in East Meadow, Long Island.It will start at 4 pm, with a happy hour and a
free hot buffet until 8 pm.Live music
starts at 10 pm, and a raffle and auction will be part of the festivities.For more information, feel free to contact T.E.A.L.
Written by Jennifer Moon
Now a third-year graduate student in pharmacy school, Mandy Irvin is committed to helping people improve their health. She and her classmates regularly participate in fundraising activities to support different causes, such as diabetes, autism, and leukemia and lymphoma. So it’s no surprise that when one of her closest relatives was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she wanted to do something to fight back against the disease, which strikes about 22,000 women in the US each year.
T.E.A.L.’s annual Walk/Run, held in September in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, is its biggest event, with thousands of participants.But a number of other events, organized by T.E.A.L. supporters, take place around the country at various times during the year.After Mandy’s aunt, Stacey Bentley Rowell, was treated for ovarian cancer and went into remission, Mandy wanted to create an event to honor her. She proceeded to organize a ®T.E.A.L. Walk in Savannah, Georgia, where she is currently studying to become a pharmacist.
As is the case with many women, Stacey’s diagnosis came unexpectedly. At the end of 2012, she was scheduled for a hysterectomy to relieve painful menstrual cramps that she had suffered for a long time. She was 39 years old, younger than most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which generally develops after menopause. During the procedure, a tumor was discovered. Luckily, it was caught at an early stage, when the prognosis is very good. If ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated before it has spread to surrounding organs or tissues, more than 90% of women will survive at least 5 years. Unfortunately, only about 15% of ovarian cancers are found when they’re still at stage 1.
Mandy and Stacey have always had a very special
relationship. Stacey is the youngest of
seven siblings, including Mandy’s mom. Only
ten years apart in age, Stacey and Mandy talk at least once a week and text
each other frequently. A dental
hygienist, Stacey is a very giving and supportive person. According to Mandy, she’s never heard a harsh
word come out of her mouth.
Mandy looked online for a way to organize her own local fundraising event and found T.E.A.L. and its chief executive, Pamela Esposito-Amery. She immediately liked how easy it was to create her own ®T.E.A.L. Walk. Her experience with T.E.A.L. enabled her to become involved in fundraising for ovarian cancer in a way that felt right for her and her community.
Savannah’s first ®T.E.A.L. Walk was held on November 8, 2014 at Lake Mayer Track. The day turned out to be beautiful. Stacey and her two daughters traveled from Newton, Georgia for the event. Mandy made her a special care package that included a water bottle, bookmark, and lapel pin in support of ovarian cancer. With Stacey at the lead, a group of about fifty participants made a triumphant lap around the track. Many of them were pharmacy students, and the dean of activities also made an appearance with some friends from church.
The pharmacy students did more than just walk. They also offered free health screening services for the participants, including tests to measure blood pressure and blood sugar and calculations of body-mass index. In addition, Mandy is a member of the Kappa Psi-Delta Omega Fraternity, a professional pharmacy fraternity. She was able to partner with Kappa Psi, so prospective members could support the ®T.E.A.L. Walk as part of their pledging process.
Mandy ended up raising more than $1,800 for ovarian cancer research and awareness, well over the $1,000 goal she had set for the event. Most of the money came from selling ovarian cancer merchandise, including T-shirts, teal ribbons, car magnets, and stickers. Also on offer were ovarian cancer wristbands bearing the words, “Hope,” “Survivor,” “Faith,” and “Strength.” In addition, local businesses donated items that were sold to participants in a silent auction. By all measures, the event was a success.
Mandy wants to hold another ®T.E.A.L Walk in Savannah again next year. She would also love to expand her efforts in support of ovarian cancer to include the Kappa Psi fraternity nationally. As a future pharmacist, she wants patients to be empowered to take care of their health and to learn important facts about ovarian cancer. For instance, many women don’t realize that the Pap smear, which is extremely effective at detecting cervical cancer, does not catch ovarian cancer. Currently, there is no way to screen for ovarian cancer, which makes research in this area especially important.
Aunt Stacey is doing well, with scans every six months to confirm that her cancer is in remission. Her levels of CA125, a protein in the blood that can signal the presence of ovarian cancer, are at their lowest since she began treatment. And as usual, she and Mandy keep in touch regularly. Together, they’ll continue to raise awareness and ® tell every amazing lady about the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Written by Jennifer Moon
A lot of people think that ovarian cancer only affects older women, but Julie Antonecchia knows all too well that isn’t the case. She was diagnosed at the age of 26, just a few months after getting married.
In the fall of 2008, Julie was preparing for her upcoming wedding. While working at a boutique, where she was standing on her feet for long stretches at a time, she was dieting and exercising more than usual. She felt tired, like she was coming down with a cold, but she was also experiencing a sensation of pressure on her bladder, abdominal pain, and irregular bleeding. Two doctors diagnosed an inflamed bladder, a condition that typically resolves on its own. Julie was reassured, but she still didn’t feel quite right.
Julie and her husband celebrated their honeymoon in Jamaica in October, although her symptoms started to worsen. By February 2009, she felt like she was coming down with the worst cold ever. Intense stomach pains eventually drove her to the emergency room. At first, doctors thought she was pregnant because they saw a large mass on her ultrasound tests. After she had a CT scan, they realized that there was actually a 2-3 pound tumor on her right ovary. Julie had an oophorectomy, a procedure to remove her ovary. To her shock, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer—the last thing a 26-year-old newlywed would have expected.
Luckily, Julie’s tumor was caught at an early stage, and the type of cancer she was diagnosed with, called a dysgerminoma, has a high cure rate. Dysgerminomas are uncommon, making up only 2% of ovarian cancers, and most occur in women younger than 30. They develop when the cells that typically become eggs start to grow out of control in the ovary. Even after surgery and chemotherapy, many young women with dysgerminomas are able to go on to have children.
Julie underwent three rounds of chemotherapy to ensure that no cancer cells remained following surgery. Her husband and her friends helped her through that difficult experience, and she had follow-up check-ups with her oncologist for a year. After that, she was happy to hear that she was no more likely to develop ovarian cancer again than a woman who has never been diagnosed.
After her treatment, Julie participated in the first T.E.A.L. walk in 2009 as part of Team Babster. Her husband had grown up with Craig Tull, who had recently lost his mother Barbara to ovarian cancer. It felt right to support the Tull family, to commemorate Julie’s own struggle with ovarian cancer, and to honor the other amazing ladies whose lives have been transformed by the disease.
This year on September 6, Julie will be running the T.E.A.L. 5K as part of Team Babster. She loves being part of a community connected by ovarian cancer and witnessing what a difference T.E.A.L. has made to so many people in such a short time. She enjoys meeting other ovarian cancer survivors at the event, seeing the T-shirts that teams make to honor loved ones, and learning the names of individuals who’ve battled against the disease.
Nowadays, Julie is enjoying spending time with her husband, a movie buff like herself. She likes to run, while her husband goes on long bicycle rides. Together they care for their two French bulldogs and don’t have immediate plans for kids. Julie works as a secretary in a special education office, recently completed her associate’s degree by taking classes at night, and intends to pursue her bachelor’s degree. She’s so appreciative of the friends who supported her, even as they were facing such different problems and concerns in their lives.
Ovarian cancer can strike anyone, across lines of age, ethnicity, and race. Although Julie doesn’t know other women her age who’ve had a similar experience, she met a lot of older women with ovarian cancer during her treatment. And like so many of them, she hopes that every amazing lady will gain a better awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, which can be so vague and associated with other conditions, such as uterine tract infections or irregular periods. Julie knows that it’s crucial to listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, go see a gynecologist, and get a second, or even a third, opinion. It’s your body, and you owe it to yourself to take very good care of it.
Written by Jennifer Moon
Tornadoes are not common in New York City. But on September 8, 2012, the first time that Team Margie’s Meatballs participated in the T.E.A.L. Walk, a tornado tore threw Rockaway Beach in Queens and made landfall in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Canarsie. For Marissa Sazer, who had recently lost her mother to ovarian cancer, the unusual weather was a sign that Margie was still present, playfully wreaking havoc with the elements and watching over her from heaven.
Food has always played an important role in Marissa’s family. Long ago, her grandmother started hosting weekly dinners, featuring heaping plates of pasta and Italian meatballs. After she passed away, her mother Margie carried on the tradition. She filled their house with the tantalizing smells of her cooking, but also with her kindness and warmth. A stay-at-home mom to Marissa and her older brother and sister, Margie was the family’s rock. Always ready with a hug or a kiss, she made sure that her children felt her constant love, even when their fiery tempers sometimes got the better of them. When Marissa grew up and moved out of the house, Margie presented her with a huge batch of frozen meatballs to take with her. Naming the T.E.A.L. team walking in Margie’s honor after her signature dish seemed like a fitting tribute to an amazing lady so dedicated to nourishing and caring for her family.
Like all too many women, Margie was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after the disease had already reached an advanced stage. In her early 70s, she and her husband were just beginning to enjoy their retirement and go on cruises together. One day she was gardening, and then suddenly she was undergoing surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation. Soon it was clear that further treatments would not be effective.
Still, Margie never gave up hope. She remained positive and upbeat even as she started hospice care. Marissa and her two siblings took time off from their jobs, moved back into their childhood home, and cared for their mother during the last months of her life. They learned all they could about ovarian cancer, including homeopathic treatments, and tried everything. Throughout the ordeal, the hospice nurses were amazed at Margie’s cheerful attitude, her friendliness, and her faith that she would get better, despite all the medical equipment attached to her. Before she got sick, Margie would never leave the house without makeup, and even in hospice, she continued to put on makeup every day.
Margie fought hard for about a year, but the end came quickly. As her condition worsened, her faith became increasingly important to her, and she began saying the rosary multiple times throughout the day. Her family would come in to join her, sitting around her bed while counting beads and praying. During the last week of her life, Margie’s eyes remained closed, and her family tried to tell her that it was okay for her to let go. On the day she died, her husband and children sat around her one more time, praying the rosary. They spoke to her, telling her that they would be fine. All of a sudden, Margie opened her eyes, blinked at them, and then closed her eyes one last time. Marissa felt like she was telling them that she was ready to join her loved ones in heaven. It was 2012, shortly after Valentine’s Day.
Marissa and her siblings were surprised when the line for Margie’s funeral wound around the block. Although their mother had always been a socialite, they had no idea how beloved she was. Despite their grief, they were pleased to see how far her reach had extended, stretching well beyond their family to include so many people at church and throughout their New Jersey community.
Marissa formed Team Margie’s Meatballs to keep fighting the fight against ovarian cancer on her mother’s behalf. That first T.E.A.L. Walk was an amazing experience. All of her immediate family participated, creating a team of more than fifteen. Marissa especially enjoyed the sense of empowerment she got from being surrounded by so many people who had gone through similarly heart-wrenching experiences.
Most of the time, it’s too hard for Marissa to think about losing her mother. Still, she remains committed to the T.E.A.L. Walk and Run and to raising money for ovarian cancer research. In addition to better treatments, she hopes for better screening methods, better insurance policies to cover the costs of genetic tests, and greater awareness of the signs and symptoms of the disease, which include gastrointestinal complaints, abdominal bloating, and discomfort.
Marissa continues to feel Margie’s influence in large and small ways. Shortly after her mother passed away, she suddenly became pregnant. Marissa and her husband were convinced that the child would be a girl, a new life to help fill the hole left by her mother’s absence. Both were shocked when the doctor informed them that they would actually be having a boy. Although he was not the little girl they expected, Oliver, who’s now almost two, still feels to Marissa like a little gift from heaven from her mother.
Other signs of her mother’s ongoing presence are more nebulous, but no less meaningful. During the last months of her life, Margie developed a love of the Beatles, a departure from the 1950s tunes she and her husband typically listened to. The song “Let It Be” quickly became a favorite. At the same time, Marissa and her siblings began teasing their mother and calling her an owl because of the funny faces she made. After she died, Marissa’s husband brought home a pillow he had found at a nearby store. Marissa held it, looking at the words “Let It Be” on the front. When she turned it over, she was startled to find an owl on the back peering back at her and reminding her even more strongly of her mother.
So it was not altogether a surprise when a tornado struck at the T.E.A.L. Walk in 2012. Like so many people, Marissa has had her life profoundly shaped by cancer, a disease that can leave a trail of devastation in its wake. With Team Margie’s Meatballs, she wants to help prevent other families from experiencing what hers did. And on the occasions when she’s tried to carry on the tradition of big spaghetti dinners, she’s felt her mother’s spirit guiding her as she prepares the meatballs.
Written by Jennifer Moon
Hear Margie's Husband's touching story at last year's T.E.A.L. Walk/Run:
Team Babster has participated in every Tell Every Amazing Lady (T.E.A.L.) Walk since the first one it held in 2009. That year, Becky Hisler learned about T.E.A.L.’s efforts to raise awareness and research funds for ovarian cancer on a celebrity news site. She knew immediately that she wanted to get her family involved to honor her aunt Barbara, who had always played such an important role in her life.
Barbara Tull was an outgoing and caring woman who was not afraid to tell it like it is. Kindhearted, funny, and witty, she always maintained an open-door policy, with plenty of food on hand for any relatives and friends who happened to drop by. As a teenager, Becky was a frequent visitor to her aunt’s house in Westchester, where she would hang out with her cousins, Craig and Marc. Since she was little, people would always tell her that she and Barbara looked a lot alike.
Barbara worked at a business owned by Becky’s father, a baseball card show promoter. In charge of operations, she would see that the shows ran smoothly, chat with the baseball players, and make sure they got paid for signing autographs. On her days off, she would crack jokes with her best friend. Since the two often dressed alike, people liked to refer to them as the “dynamic duo.”
Barbara loved her two children more than anything in the world and would always try to spend time with them. Marc especially remembers his mother’s warm sense of humor and her ability to make people laugh. She was the kind of mom who would chat with her son and his friends, while bleaching their hair and teasingly inquiring about their romantic lives. But she wouldn’t just be giving them a hard time—she really cared about what was going on and made sure to listen. Her openness and sense of fun made it easy to trust and confide in her.
Everything changed when Barbara was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in July 2002. She underwent an all-day surgery to remove a massive tumor, then months of chemotherapy. After a brief period of remission, she was told that her cancer had returned in August 2003, while she was on vacation with her family in Baltimore. She was hospitalized shortly before Halloween, and during a second surgery, her doctors discovered that her cancer had spread to her stomach and intestines. She woke up briefly after the surgery, then fell into a coma. She passed away on November 15, 2003 at the age of 51. Marc was 15 at the time, Becky was 18, and Craig was 21.
Barbara’s passing hit her sons hard, but they got through the ordeal with their family’s love and support. Craig and Marc had previously fought a lot, but grew much closer after losing their mother. On special occasions, such as Craig’s wedding a couple of years ago, the entire family always makes sure to think of Barbara and keep her in their hearts.
The annual T.E.A.L. Walks have been an important way to bring family and friends together to remember Barbara. Since 2009, Marc, Becky, and Craig have tried to get as many of their friends as they could to join Team Babster and donate money for ovarian cancer research and awareness. Over the years, Team Babster has raised thousands of dollars and numbered up to 20 participants—and they always have a fun time. The cousins compete to come up with creative ways to raise money, and once Craig dyed his hair teal to reach his fundraising goal. The team wears special T-shirts and matching sunglasses, and they make a tradition of going out to a local restaurant for pizza.
Last year’s event was especially meaningful. It marked Team Babster’s fifth year with T.E.A.L. and the tenth since Barbara’s passing. In honor of the occasion and inspired by Barbara’s own strength and fortitude, Becky set a goal of running in the T.E.A.L. Run, her first ever 5K. Although she’s never been a runner, she came in under her target time of 40 minutes, while her father, an avid marathoner, joined her at the end to cross the finish line.
For this year’s event, scheduled for September 6, 2014 in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, Becky plans to participate in the 5K run again, before joining her family and friends in the walk. Marc made a video about his mom so that people who never got a chance to meet her can learn a little more about the amazing lady who inspires all of Team Babster’s efforts. And the cousins will be sure to keep Barbara’s memory alive on that day and every day after.
Written by Jennifer Moon
Marc, Becky, and Craig
On September 7, 2013, Patricia Marshall celebrated her 60th birthday with her family while participating in the Tell Every Amazing Lady (T.E.A.L.) Walk/Run in Prospect Park. Six weeks earlier, she had completed her last round of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. Team Sunshine Power, which included her sister, two daughters, two stepsons, her niece, and their partners, travelled from Pittsburgh, California, Toronto, and New York to join Patricia and her husband, who had flown from Florida for the event. For all of them, it marked a happy turning point in what had been a difficult journey.
In November 2012, Patricia was running a small business in Central Florida, selling five blends of low-salt spices, when she started feeling discomfort in her lower abdomen. When she woke up in the middle of the night in intense pain, she knew she needed to see a doctor. A former nurse, she suspected a problem with her bladder, but tests indicated that everything was fine there. A CT scan did show a cyst on her ovary, and she was referred to a gynecologic oncologist. When Patricia entered the doctor’s office and saw all the patients in the waiting room, she never imagined that she might be facing cancer herself. Her blood tests to measure levels of CA125, a marker for ovarian cancer, were completely normal.
Patricia had surgery to remove her cyst on March 1, 2013. When she woke up in the recovery room, she knew immediately that something was wrong. Her operation should have been over by 9:30 am, but the clock showed that it was already past noon. The tissue sample from her cyst could not be identified and had to be sent to another location for further tests. After anxiously waiting three weeks for the results, Patricia learned that she had a Brenner tumor, a very rare form of ovarian cancer. Approximately 22,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in the United States. Only a few hundred develop Brenner tumors, and less than 5% of those are malignant. Not much is known about this type of ovarian cancer, which is treated in the same way as other more common forms that develop on the outer surface of the ovary.
Patricia’s tumor was classified as stage 1, grade 3, which meant that it was caught early, but that she would need to undergo chemotherapy. For Patricia, this was an enormous shock. Telling her mother, who was 91 years old at the time, that she had cancer was the hardest thing she has ever had to do in her life. The day after her diagnosis, she and her husband travelled to Philadelphia for Passover, where she saw a pair of fabulous yellow shoes. Since yellow has always been her favorite color, she purchased them as her fighting shoes, and they helped carry her through her treatment and recovery. She also wore a yellow shirt on the days she went in for chemotherapy, while her family wore yellow bracelets.
On Mother’s Day that year, her family came to visit her in Florida, and Patricia decided she wanted to celebrate her 60th birthday in New York. Her niece, then a student at Columbia University, found the T.E.A.L. Walk/Run online, and Team Sunshine Power, named in honor of Patricia’s favorite color and home state, was born. On her birthday, her daughter and son-in-law from New York, her stepsons, and two of her daughter’s friends ran the 5K, along with a Labradoodle and her 1-year-old granddaughter in a jogging stroller. They then joined the rest of Patricia’s family for the walk around the park. It was an amazing experience for Patricia and the biggest event of its kind that she’s ever been involved with. Especially meaningful was the opportunity to meet other ovarian cancer survivors, including a young woman who had been diagnosed in her early 20s, and to realize that the disease can affect women of all ages.
After almost a year in remission, Patricia is doing well. She’s joined a local support group for women with ovarian cancer, goes in for checkups every three months, and has been told by her doctor that she’s likely to remain cancer-free. She recently celebrated the second birthday of her granddaughter and the birth of two more. Patricia had genetic testing, and no mutations in the BRCA gene, which accounts for about 15% of ovarian cancers, were found. And although the effects of chemotherapy have resulted in some memory loss and her spice business may be forced to close, she’s benefited from a positive and unexpected side effect. Sometimes, when she’s quiet and by herself, maybe driving to visit her mother, she feels intense moments of utter and complete joy that have not abated since she’s completed treatment.
Patricia listened to her body and was lucky that her cancer was caught early. Symptoms of ovarian cancer can be vague, but are often characterized by digestive or bladder problems or by abdominal pain, discomfort, or bloating. As a former nurse and an ovarian cancer survivor, Patricia feels that the most important message she could tell every amazing lady is to pay attention to what your body is telling you. If there’s something bothering you, don’t ignore it, and don’t be afraid to get it checked out.
Written by Jennifer Moon
After treatment, Patricia had a stand-up paddleboard made to commemorate the date of her surgery, 3/1/13. In addition to being a palindrome, these numbers also refer to the stage of her cancer and are a source of strength as she enters a new stage of her life.