Grit and Grace
The Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation (SROCF) humbly began 16 years ago, on a living room floor, with the goal to give women a fighting chance against ovarian cancer. At the heart of the foundation is Sandy Rollman, a remarkable woman who passed away from complications due to ovarian cancer in 2000 at far too young an age. I was Sandy’s oncology nurse, and first came together with her sister, Adriana Way, to fight for Sandy when she couldn’t fight for herself any longer.
After Sandy passed away, we dreamt about honoring her by helping to support women and families like hers who were dealing with the realities of an ovarian cancer diagnosis. We started with two people and one idea, and took a leap of faith. A BIG leap! When we first started, I discovered how few resources and support services there were available to women with the disease. From inception, the SROCF set up a monthly meeting to make sure that all women with ovarian cancer had a place for support and to connect with other survivors. At our first meeting a woman admitted “I thought I was the only one.” The Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation works tirelessly to ensure that no woman with ovarian cancer ever feels alone.
Today, the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation works to unite the community together to promote awareness of ovarian cancer through education about the disease, research funding, and advocacy. Our signature event, the Sandy Sprint Superhero 5K or 10K Run/Walk & Canine Sprint helps in spreading the word about ovarian cancer and raises funds to advance research. The attendees show up to this fun event in their favorite superhero costumes, united in the fight against ovarian cancer. The 2016 Sandy Sprint raised an impressive $285,000 for research funding. The event has grown from year to year, with more than 4,000 people in attendance.
A special part of the day is the survivor ceremony, where each survivor stands on stage and announces their number of years of survivorship; with all the years of survivorship then added up. This year, over 75 survivors shared their experience to have a combined total of 247 years of survivorship! This ceremony gives hope to survivors by showing that long term survivorship is not just possible, but attainable.
The Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation also provides programs to support our mission of awareness, advocacy, and support. The With a Little Help From Her Friends Support Program connects a newly diagnosed woman with a survivor who is comparable in age and diagnosis. The mentors provide one-on-one support through phone calls and in person meetings, ensuring that every ovarian cancer patient receives the support they need and deserve. In fact, many of the women then come back and act as mentors to newly diagnosed women. 2017 will be an exciting year for us. We will launch a new Clinical Trials Brochure and start a Survivorship Program, “Survive and Thrive”.
Every year, through our events, the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation funds research to find a cure for ovarian cancer, a screening test for early detection, breakthrough treatments and improve the quality of life for those living with ovarian cancer. Last September, during an event with the Actors of General Hospital, the SROCF reached an incredible landmark- granting over $3.5 million dollars to fund research! In 2015, the SROCF embarked on our most ambitious project to date; committing half a million dollars to help fund the Stand Up to Cancer Ovarian Cancer Dream Team. The Dream Team focuses on treatments for ovarian cancer patients today and prevention and early detection of the disease. This research grant “is a big step, but an exciting one” for the impact it will make on ovarian cancer prevention and early detection.
Our commitment to research funding and the support we offer women and their families are what I’m most proud of, “that even in the midst of all the sadness surrounding this disease, in some small way we’ve played a role in someone’s survival.” Over the years, I’ve come to realize that women, families, and doctors look to us- they look at what we’re doing. And if they see that we’re not giving up, they don’t give up. That responsibility is a huge one- one I think of on a daily basis, and one that I take very seriously. I am often asked how I can do this work. And to be very honest, there are times that I feel absolutely gutted. Every loss I experience is like losing a member of my own family. But the support, the friendship, the sisterhood, the strength we give to each other when we’re down is what keeps me going. And somehow, those losses make me work even harder.
This journey has been beautiful, painful, spiritual and everything in between. Since starting this, I have cried harder than I have ever cried. But, I’ve also laughed harder than I have every laughed. As much as I give, I have received so much more in return. I’ve stopped sweating the small stuff. The good things seem better. And the funny things seem funnier. I even appreciate the crazy days! And I try to never take a moment for granted.
I often think about the women who are alive today because of a treatment a researcher developed, and we had a hand in supporting. I think of the collaborations and the ideas that have resulted from working with others. I think about the 40+ researchers we’ve funded, and how the future of a world without ovarian cancer lies in their hands and in ours. I think of women who once felt isolated and alone, and now feel like they’ve found a home. I think about the difference being made because we dared to talk about our hopes and dreams, and the difference being made because we worked to build such a strong community. When you see the grit & grace of our community unite, it keeps you going, even on a bad day. I celebrate every story of survivorship, and I remember every friend I’ve lost. They exist in the stories I tell, in the decisions I make, and in my heart forever.