CURE®’s Annual Ovarian Cancer Heroes Program Goes Virtual Amid COVID-19 to Honor Three Women Who Have Dedicated Their Lives to Patients with Gynecologic Cancer

October 17, 2020
Conor Killmurray

,
Katie Kosko

Conference | <b>Ovarian Cancer Heroes</b>

An oncology nurse, patient turned advocate and cancer biologist were honored during CURE®’s third annual Ovarian Cancer Heroes program where they got to share messages of resiliency with a virtual audience.

Adapting to the ever-changing nature of 2020 and the cancer journey was the theme of the night at CURE®’s virtual Ovarian Cancer Heroes program, as attendees gathered online to continue to celebrate the outstanding heroes in the ovarian cancer landscape despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

A virtual audience of over one-hundred gynecologic oncologists, nurses, advocates, patients and loved ones tuned in for speeches and discussions from this year’s winners along with keynote speaker Joan Lunden who shared her personal journey with cancer.

The award-winning journalist, bestselling author and motivational speaker received a triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis in 2014 which required a treatment plan of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.

Lunden turned her cancer experience into an opportunity to help other women. The patient turned advocate blogged through her treatment, serves as an ambassador for Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer, advocates for patients on Capitol Hill and communicates with the cancer community through her social media channels and website.

“I once heard that there are two great days in your life, the day you're born and then the day you discover why,” said Lunden in her speech. “For me, it is being an advocate for other women. This is what kind of fuels me on my warrior journey; (it’s) why I continue to travel the country and speak to women's groups. It's why I do my part in educating others and in fight for needed changes in health care policy, and of course, to help raise funds for more research, more treatment answers and hopefully someday, a cure.”

Lunden helped present the Ovarian Cancer Heroes awards to three individuals — an oncology nurse, patient turned advocate and cancer biologist.

Robin Cohen, Andrea Herzberg and Deborah Zajchowski were honored for their innovative research and dedication to making a difference in the lives of patients with ovarian cancer and for what it truly means to be a hero for patients.

Making A Difference for Every Patient with Ovarian Cancer

Cohen, an oncology nurse at Lankenau Medical Center in a suburb of Philadelphia, was the first to be recognized after being nominated by survivor and previous Ovarian Cancer Heroes recipient Susan Leighton, whom she met at a national ovarian cancer conference.

“I have met many compassionate and professional nurses on my journey with ovarian cancer. They are at the very center of care, from the exam room when a woman first hears ‘ovarian cancer’ to the operating and recovery room where she comes to the realization that she is facing her mortality … to the infusion room when she is overtaken with physical side effects and anxiety … they are a lifeline to those drowning in unfamiliar waters. Robin Cohen is the epitome of this type of nurse,” Leighton wrote in her nomination essay.

Cohen serves as CEO of the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation, which she cofounded with the sister of one of her patients who died from the disease in 2000. In addition to keeping the memory of Sandy Rollman alive, the nonprofit organization gives a voice to patients and has awarded more than $4 million to ovarian cancer research.

“I always think of the person behind the disease, her needs and the needs of her family,” Cohen said in her acceptance remarks. “I celebrate every story of survivorship, and I remember every woman that we've lost, and they are alive every day in the work that I do. So, I just want to say to any ovarian cancer survivors listening, I will always fight for you.”

In the late 1990s, Herzberg, then a 39-year-old mother of a 4-year-old, was faced with a stage 3c ovarian cancer diagnosis. Now a 23-year survivor, the former New York Police Department sergeant lends her firsthand experience and support to other women through SHARE as a helpline coordinator, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and empowering women affected by breast and ovarian cancer.

“Andrea is a long-term ovarian cancer survivor who’s been managing SHARE’s Ovarian Cancer Helpline for nine years — seven days a week — and facilitating two ovarian cancer support groups each month. In the ovarian cancer world where less than half of women diagnosed survive more than five years … she provides hope and strength to others,” wrote her nominator and colleague Stephanie Blaufarb.

“When I use the word lucky, I usually quote Brooklyn Dodger baseball manager, Branch Rickey, who observed that luck is the residue of design,” Herzberg explained when describing her long journey as both a patient with ovarian cancer and a patient advocate. “I feel lucky to have known, and still know, and continue to meet so many ovarian cancer heroes. We raise awareness, we raise money, sometimes we even raise hell on behalf of women who will be diagnosed. We want them all to be lucky by design.”

For more than 25 years, Deborah Zajchowski, who holds a doctorate in biochemistry, has been involved in cancer research and drug development initially focusing on breast cancer. After her sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she pivoted her focus and found a new calling.

In her current role as scientific director of the Clearity Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the survival and quality of life of women with ovarian cancer, she ensures that patients receive information on the most advanced treatment options for the disease and helps them get one-on-one consultations. Zajchowski is also a member of the American Association for Cancer Research and the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

At the foundation, Zajchowski has led many projects bringing them to fruition including an online interactive tumor profiling report, an ovarian cancer-specific clinical trial search tool and a treatment option guide that provides individualized information. She describes her work with Clearity as life changing for her, but it started with tragedy before she joined the foundation.

“Tragedy struck at the same time, my cherished friend and former partner Peggy was diagnosed with an aggressive form of uterine cancer and passed away not long afterwards. But not before I made a promise that I would try to help other people, other patients, understand their cancer diagnosis, and options as I had tried to help her,” Zajchowski said in her speech. “Who would have guessed that I would have had the opportunity to change not only my career, but my life very soon after that … Fast forward 12 years and here I find myself today.”

“It is an honor to work with someone who is so smart, professional and knowledgeable about ovarian cancer and who is so passionately inspired to assist as many women as possible in managing this disease,” wrote nominator Susan Hess, who also works at the Clearity Foundation. “Deb has been a force for good in the ovarian cancer community for many, many years and has helped many, many women and their caregivers … she is a real hero.”

Adapting to an Ever-Changing Field

Amid the virtual celebration everyone remarked how different and exhausting this year of virtual life has been, but how the resiliency that is required on the cancer journey plays an important role in managing the new challenges we all face.

“For women with ovarian cancer this year has been particularly difficult, adding the challenges of surgery, chemotherapy, doctor's visits and the general fear of vulnerability to a virus that we knew little about,” said Stefanie E. Nacar, the head of U.S. Oncology Communications at GSK who supported the event. “Women with ovarian cancer have had to overcome not just the obstacle of their disease, but all of the physical and mental barriers COVID-19 created. Fortunately, through the work of organizations represented here today, and programs like what we've launched at GSK, we have all directed that same personal motivation to support these women and their families through these unique circumstances.”

In all the hero’s speeches they spoke to the incredible courage patients have, and the only way to succeed was to have a strong care team around them. Moreover, how patients can succeed by reaching out to those around them no matter the circumstances.

“2020 has certainly proven to be a challenge for all of us,” said Erik Lohrmann, vice president, CURE Media Group. “Regardless of the circumstance, MJH Life Sciences and CURE Magazine, with support from GSK, are honored to recognize individuals who have dedicated their lives and careers to improving care for ovarian cancer patients.”

Congratulations to Kimberly Bourque and Victoria Velazquez on winning the Visa Gift Card raffle!

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.


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