The Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation (SROCF) humbly began 16 years ago, on my 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 lost her battle 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 sitting on a living room floor with two people and one idea. We were both young, in our 20’s, knew nothing about running a nonprofit, and had no monetary backing. But, we were driven- driven by hearts filled with love and filled with pain. Emotions ran very high. We were both shattered in different ways. Adriana had lost her only sister and I had lost my patient, who became a dear friend, who I desperately wanted to save and couldn’t. I remember sitting on that floor, surrounded by papers (that at the time seemed to be written in a foreign language), and asking each other “are we really going to do this?” We were up against enormous odds and with no certain outcome. But, we both felt that if we helped just one person, it would be worth it. My home became our office. Our mailing list was close family and friends.And about a million times we asked each other “What have we gotten ourselves into?” We never imagined where we would be today.
Building a movement is tough but exciting.I believed our community needed this movement to further the cause. We built it by people working together. Watching it grow and seeing the impact of our work has been incredible. People derive hope from it, and from us.
When we first started, I discovered how few resources and support services there were available to women with the disease. From inception, we set up monthly meetings 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. These women know that we’ll be with them, no matter what.
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. Every year through fundraisers, the organization 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, 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.It was a big leap to take as an organization. But, I have always been one to take that leap. I know that women with ovarian cancer depend on us to take the step forward and to do everything in our power to change its course. To me, the only thing that could have been lost was a chance not taken. That’s not to say that I didn’t have a few sleepless nights about this enormous commitment, because I did. But the potential benefits far outweighed the risk in my mind, and the results so far have been very exciting.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.
The most difficult and hardest part of doing this work is the loss. To be very honest, there are times that I feel gutted. And there are even a few times that I have felt like running away. Every loss is like losing a member of my own family, and is a punch in the gut that takes your breath away. And yet, I don’t run. Those losses drive me to work even harder. Since starting this, I have cried harder than I have ever cried. But, I’ve also laughed harder than I have ever laughed. As much as I give, I have received so much more in return.
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 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 while sitting on that floor, and the difference being made because we worked to build such a strong community.I think about all the doors we knocked on, being unafraid to knock them down. This journey has been beautiful, painful, spiritual and everything in between. I celebrate every story of survivorship, and I remember every friend I’ve lost. I remember them for what they stood for and for what they fought for. And they exist in every single decision that I make.
Over the years, people have often asked how I mustered the courageto start a fledgling nonprofit.How did I accept that risk? The truth is I didn’t really see it as a risk. To me, the real risk would be giving up a once-in-a-lifetime chance to follow my heart and my soul to something that would hopefully change my life and a lot of other people’s lives for the better. In the end, I decided the risk of missing such an opportunity was too great and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I truly believe that anything is possible when you have the right people by your side. When you see the grit & grace of our community unite, it keeps you going. Sometimes, even the smallest of actions can lead to the biggest of breakthroughs.Every one of us has the power inside to do something good- to make a real difference. I encourage you to find that power inside of you and use it.
Robin Cohen is the CEO and Co-Founder of the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation. She is a member of the Oncology Nursing Society, the Society of Gynecologic Nurse Oncologists, Sigma Theta Tau Honor Society and the Cambridge WHO’s WHO. She has been recognized as one of the 75 Greatest Living Philadelphians. She has served on the board of directors of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance for the last 7 years and is now the Vice President of the Board of the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance. Robin recently joined the Board of World Ovarian Cancer Coalition.
My last sort-of-goal for this year, and perhaps most important – is to do a little more for others, in whatever small way I can. So, this weekend just gone, I travelled to Calais. To the Jungle. The refugee camp. Although it’s not a camp. It’s almost a slum. That’s really trying to be a camp. It’s a slum, not because of the people living in it – they are doing their best to survive in tents and caravans and wooden huts. And it’s got nothing to do with the angel-like volunteers who are there unpaid working many hours and taking on roles that volunteers at Glastonbury festival would turn their noses up at. It’s a slum because, no one has offered or taken charge of this humanitarian crisis at ground-zero level. It’s a slum because it’s on waste land that was a dump. It’s a slum because there’s no real infrastructure or public health protection and it’s chaos.
Bear showed us around the camp. Bear is a super human (along with all the others)! He’s an assistant coordinator at the warehouse and the camp. The warehouse is where the coordination happens. Where the goods like food and blankets and clothes come in and get distributed out.
We needed a pass to enter the jungle, which was checked 3 times at 3 check points going into the camp by very unfriendly police.
Walking through that camp was one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had. You’ll walk past groups of youths who look like they’re at holiday camp, playing badminton, football and scaling make-shift buildings. Then you’ll ask a guy if he’s OK and he gives you the hundred mile stare and says ‘No- I’m not OK- would you be?’ We all agreed with him. And tried to understand his point. But we couldn’t really understand. As we all have beds to go to, warm running water, heating, comfort and money flowing in and out of our bank accounts. Even if it’s only a little money.
Make no mistake – this is no holiday camp. These youths are finding ways to keep warm, numb the pain, boredom and escape the living reality of existing in the next town to Hell.
Why did I go? For two reasons. firstly to track down Phoebe Hope – the caravan my family donated to the Camp. It is named after my cousin Oliver and his lovely wife Fiona’s little girl who passed away as a young baby last year. And to see if I could talk to the family who live in her now. I was told I may not find her. As there are no allocated plots (this isn’t a caravan park either). There are thousands living there now in caravans, tents and makeshift huts.
There aren’t many words that I can use to explain what I saw that day and I’m still trying to process it now. But what I can say that in the despair, there are glimmers of hope. In the sadness there is strong faith. In the dismay there is still laughter and in the humiliation there is still pride.
I found my own emotions swung between intrigue, despair and inertia. One minute I was enjoying a light joke with a native camp dweller, who asked me to take photos of him posing and the next I was looking at a baby peering out of the back of a caravan.. The baby wanted to go outside but I realised that a baby would not even be able to walk on this ground, littered with all sorts of everything and muddy puddles the size of small streams. The babies are like little prisoners, or like baby chicks caged-in unable to feel or experience much freedom. And no matter what you read in the press – about it being all men, trying to sneak into the UK, there are many families here, with small children. This is one of the saddest parts of camp life.
This level of poverty I have witnessed before. My daughter’s papa is from the poorest country in South America, Bolivia. Many people live like this there. I spent a few months in Bolivia and many people in extreme poverty are happy (they smile and laugh a lot) and not starving (they have access to 2 meals a day). I’m not romanticising poverty. Poverty is shit. Poverty deprives you and steals your time and energy. Poverty can strip you of your self worth and pride. I could tell when I walked past the group of grown men washing at the make-shift wash area (taps on wooden boards) that they felt humiliated as I looked at them, so I looked away quickly and swallowed the lump in my throat.
We know many people all over the world live like this. In many countries, from Brazil to the Philippines. But there’s something very wrong about this here. The real asylum seekers will have arrived after travelling for weeks, months even. Broken and exhausted, weak, humiliated, tortured and traumatised. The last thing they need to hear is ‘Why are you here? Why didn’t you go there? Why aren’t you doing things properly? Why aren’t you being a sensible, well-organised asylum seeker and going down the ‘proper route’? Why didn’t you google your nearest refugee centre (over in Turkey or elsewhere) and travel there instead?’ Why, why, why?
I was listening to Greg James from BBC Radio One talking today on the morning show – he travelled to Jordan to speak with the refugees there. And I couldn’t agree more than with this point about them not wanting to be in this situation. These people fled their lovely homes, studies and good jobs, usually with nothing or very little. They ran and sailed and begged. They were terrified and hungry. Many don’t want our precious benefits (and I know they are precious, to us and everyone in the UK) – they want help. And after they have had some help, they want to return to their beloved countries. To help re-build them and create lovely homes and lives once more.
Bear took us to Afghan Square, where the enterprising folk have set up small shops and restaurants. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to sample the goods this time, but I intend to eat there next time and support them in supporting themselves.
Many charities (from Britain and France) are doing amazing work there every day. There’s a church – a tranquil haven in amidst all the madness. There’s a theatre dome – for creative endeavours, a small school, a women and children’s centre, a health centre, a youth centre and a legal centre. All set up in old donated shabby tents or shanty huts – this is human civilisation springing up and rising in the face of the lowest adversity.
So, we were walking through a group of shabby caravans and Rebecca from Caravans for Calais turned to me and said ‘There’s Phoebe Hope’ and pointed to a green, weathered looking van. We knocked on the window and it was opened by a lady and her teenage son. Bear explained who I was and I promptly showed her a photo of my daughter standing at the door of Phoebe Hope. I can’t explain what happened but it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. She ran out and held me and thanked me over and over. She couldn’t speak English but her son Sajjad could speak a little. Fatima offered me food and tea in her little van. Her son repeated ‘This is your van’. I said ‘No, it’s yours’. I went and sat with her briefly and she showed me a hand drawn picture of her 7 year old son Mohamat. (Her other family members were at the little children’s school). Our tears dropped as we hugged and I promised to visit again. I only got a few minutes with Fatima, but I felt deeply connected.
Living in the town next to hell is not a choice anyone in their right mind would make. It is the ground-zero of choices. Whether you’re an economic migrant or a war refugee. It’s awful.
The next time I make the trip, it will be to spend the full day with Fatima and her family and to hear their stories. I also hope to start setting up a creative project for the women and children’s centre too.
Something that will stay with me is the spirit and generosity of all the people there. I smiled at a man sitting outside his wooden coffin-like hut (about 6 ft tall by 3 ft wide). There were 3 beds built like bunks inside. He had a bunch of bananas and insisted on giving me one. I wanted to refuse but I thought – humans need to share. It’s in the fibre of our being. So, I stood and ate a banana with him. Looking out into the jungle chaos in silence. I bowed and said thank you and walked away, then I got into the comfy car, ready to sail back to my warm, comfy life.
Each night since I’ve returned, after tucking my little one in to bed and kissing her all over her sweet face, and I sink into my own warm, soft bed- I think about Fatima. Crammed into our little old caravan with 5 of her family. I think about her dreams for her three children, her life before the war, about what she’s doing to stay sane and survive. And she’s one of the lucky ones.
Kerrie is a success mentor for heart-centred creatives. Shortlisted in the UK last year for the ‘Woman to Watch Award’ at the National Women Inspiring Women Awards, Kerrie works with all aspired, loved-up folk to help them start their fire in work, passion and purpose.
She is a producer of transformational events in music, theatre and art. Kerrie’s widely read blogs touch many subject -from mindful mamahood to creative business ideas to self-care, play and beyond. She is the founder of Sacred & Sexy – The place to be for women rockin’ their tribe with their vibe… Kerrie’s work can be found at www.kerrieduggan.com
A teacher by trade, I left the classroom in 2010 to stay home with my son. I began working from home managing marketing and social media for small businesses. Clients ebbed and flowed; I began falling in love with the social media connections aspect of it all.
Early in 2014, I started to feel God moving me toward something, but I didn’t know what. That July, as we were on our way home from a beach trip, I blurted out, “Purpose Box!” from the passenger seat. We fleshed it out on the way home, and by the time we pulled into our driveway, I had a logo, an email address, and an Instagram account.
That evening, I emailed several companies to see if they wanted to be part of #mailthatmatters. Friends and family were behind me, companies were ready to join in, and we were off to the races!
Purpose Box is a mail subscription box that contains for-purpose items (think the TOMS shoes model) and also has a featured purpose. All proceeds of each box are donated to the featured purpose.
It has been so incredible getting to know other business owners who are looking to give back with their products. My favorite emails are those that I get from people telling me they have changed a shopping habit or given back that day because of something they have seen via Purpose Box’s social media channels or in our boxes.
You can also find more information on The Purpose Box here.
Jolie Gray is a wife and mother striving to live every day loving Jesus and sharing His grace with others. She enjoys writing, reading, and coffee. All the coffee. She founded Purpose Box is 2014 and hasn’t looked back since. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, her blog, or in the nearest Target.
When I was young my father attended seminary outside of Boston. Since he was going to school and my mother was trying to raise two young children we lived in campus housing for families. What I remember most about this time of my life is the amazing number of different cultures we were surrounded by. At the time I was so young I truly had no concept that these people were different from my family.
(Except for the fact they had some interesting choices of cuisine I had never seen… turtle soup anyone?)
I was never frightened by the color of their skin or judged them based on their accents; I had no concept that this was even something people felt they had to right to judge someone by. These people were our neighbors, their children were my play mates, and our ‘block’ parties were full of food, laughter, and neighborly love. I look back and I think about how lucky I was to grow up, even for a small amount of time, around people from all over the world and from all different walks of life. So many people don’t ever experience anything outside of people who look, act, eat and have the same religious and political beliefs as them. They don’t experience any world, except their own, and that makes them fearful; fearful of men, women, and children fleeing unspeakable atrocities. People who have experienced more pain than we would ever be able to comprehend in a country like ours. And I ask myself, why are we so afraid of these people? Why can’t we understand there are bad people in the world and that their skin color, country of origin, or religion, are not deciding factors of what makes someone evil?
There are plenty of things to fear in this country. I have been in church, gym movie theater and checked the exit doors, or felt nervous when I see what appears to be a suspicious person. Why? Because people have died in those places at the hands of Americans, at the hands of people who found access to weapons and wanted others to suffer for their pain or plight in life. I walk to my car late at night, I hear a noise, or see someone wondering the parking lot, and suddenly my pace quickens because as a female it is often scary to be alone at night. There are fears everyday, in this country, and they are related to people who were born and raised here. Evil people exist in every race, every gender, every country, and every religion.
We can’t live life in fear of all the bad people in the world and turn our backs on people who really genuinely need help. We can’t call ourselves good people then only be willing to help when we are comfortable with the color of their skin, their religion, or their country of origin. These people are fleeing evil, they are fleeing the hell they have lived in everyday for years. I see people who call themselves religious donate to mission trips, go on mission trips, or send gifts to children in other countries but see these refugees as possible terrorists. Why? What makes them different from those you are willing to help? Is it because it is easier to care for someone from far away or from a place you can remove yourself from? Probably. The people who want to turn away refugees are not bad people, they are fearful. They are allowed to be. But unfortunately fear seems to be the main political tactic used and it discourages real, factual, intelligent discussion. Do we need to be smart about how we move forward? Of course. But does that mean closing our doors completely? I hope not.
I thank God that he allowed me that time in the apartment complex and that he gave me an opportunity to go to Egypt to experience the culture when I was in college. I am lucky to have experienced worlds outside of my own. I was also blessed to have parents who encouraged me to love all my neighbors, not just the ones in my own country, but throughout the world. These experiences make me think about the fact that in this country there is a five year old who is not allowed to play with her or his neighbor because of the color of their skin or their religion. I think about what that child loses, what fears we engrain in them at such an early age, what hate that child grows up with. I think about the things I learned growing up in church, that Jesus tells us to take care of those who are in need of help, to be good Samaritans, in this country and throughout the world. I think about a family, who found hope knowing they would finally be moved to a country that could protect them, only to be turned away.
I think about those parents who sit up at night and fear what might become of their children if they have to live in a war torn country. I envision a father carrying his two dead children from the Mediterranean Sea because he was trying to protect them by fleeing the only country they had ever known. I pray for change. I pray for evil to disappear off the face of this earth. But I also know for evil to cower to the good, there must be people standing up for what is right. There must be people willing to take a chance on saving lives. There must be a concerted effort to love, even in the darkest times, because without love there is no hope, and because where there is no hope evil will thrive.
Looking for a way to help these people in need this holiday season?
Rebekah Hibbert is a Certified Athletic Trainer who works on getting athletes ready for their sport and taking care of them after they are hurt. She is passionate about women’s issues and sharing that passion through various social media outlets and is a part-time blogger trying to share my knowledge and experiences while connecting with others.
I love the idea of gathering as families and communities to resurrect what has been a tradition throughout history and in cultures around the world. While we still celebrate many major rites of passage (graduations, weddings, funerals, etc), we’ve largely lost the notion of honouring the transition between childhood and our earliest steps on the road to adulthood. Meanwhile, youth in general — and girls in particular — are more challenged than ever to maintain a positive sense of themselves as they move into this crucial time in life.
As an adolescent, I was fascinated by the idea of becoming an adult woman, an idea that I conflated in my mind with starting my period. The idea was so compelling to me that it became a bit of a fantasy — that when the big day came, there would be some sort of initiation or celebration. The notion of transforming into an adult was very special, and even kind of magical to me, so I wanted to feel special; it was really that simple. Of course, my fantasy didn’t come true, and I was left with a deep sense of disappointment.
This all came back to me in 2012 when I was asked to speak on the topic of Women Transforming Cities, which inspired my idea of a place where families could bring their daughters to celebrate them as they approached adolescence. This idea, in turn, led to the creation last year of G Day, a community-based rite of passage event series that welcomes 10-to 12-year-old girls into adolescence.
Following the success of our first three events in Vancouver, BC and Toronto, local leaders from across North America have approached us about holding G Day in their community. What’s the draw? Without doubt, there are loads of amazing educational programs directed towards girls empowerment and sexual health education. But G Day is different from and complementary to these, offering a lived experience of ritual that is highly emotional in nature, providing powerful experiences of sisterhood, trust and being actively witnessed as a valuable member of the community.
The day follows the traditional arc of a rite of passage: initiation, separation, and reunion. Girls and their “Champions” (parents, aunts and uncles, godparents, and other caring adults) start the day together with intergenerational dialogue and setting intentions. We then run separate programs for the girls and adults, bringing them back together at the end of the day for a (secular) ritual and dance celebration, topped off with a dessert reception.
The girls’ programming includes interactive presentations around topics like self-esteem, adolescent girls in the developing world and leadership, as well as activities like dance, yoga and art. There are opportunities for the girls to get to know one another and address the group as a whole about what’s happening for them. The Champions programming is more practically oriented, covering topics like connecting with our inner adolescent and parenting girls during puberty. We also get the adults moving!
There are plenty of good reasons for girls to attend G Day. One of the strongest is that it’s a unique opportunity to bond with other girls and experience Sisterhood. Girls this age are starting to receive powerful media messages about social comparison and competition that can result in poor self-image as well as unhealthy relationships. The more the girls see what they have in common by celebrating this unique time in life together, the less likely they are to, say, bully or compare themselves to other girls. The girls will have the benefit of being exposed to a wide variety of role models, and will hear the personal stories of women who have made interesting career and lifestyle choices. G Day is also simply a lot of fun!
I define G Day’s success according to the impact it has for the participants: if they felt inspired to love themselves and others more, to feel more compassion and a stronger sense of self, to feel more connected to themselves, their peers, their families and their communities while at the same time feeling safer to be more fully individuated. We often quote the African proverb that “It takes a Village to raise a child” — success for me is feeling like we have created a “Village,” if only for a day.
Madeleine Shaw is a social entrepreneur known for her longstanding commitment to progressive business practices and gender equality. She is the co-founder of Vancouver-based Lunapads, an award-winning online natural products retailer. She is also a proud Mom and a Director of United Girls of the World, a non-profit society that supports girls’ education in the developing world, and is the Producer of G Day.
On Saturday April 18th, I spent the day at the AOL offices in New York City for the Step Up Career Connections Conference. A day filled with events, learning, inspiration, and motivation would best describe it.
The women of Step Up were more than welcoming and the teens were kind, smart, and curious. I quickly remembered what it was like to be 16, and I give the girls I met big props for their openness and willingness to learn. When I was 16, I thought I knew everything. I sure didn’t, and I still don’t (even though sometimes I like to think I do.
The morning started off with a meet and greet and then we were paired off with teens and women who are in the same career field or aspire to be in the same industry. I was in the fashion, arts, media, and creative group, and the woman figure for this group was Donna Karan (coincidentally I used to be the Brand Manager for DKNY Sleepwear, so I thought that was kind of fun!). The teens I worked with wanted to be designers, artists, writers, or entrepreneurs of some sort. One girl I worked with was very adamant about thinking outside of the box. I like that!
Through out the day we participated in and attended many interesting and interactive events. We learned how to prepare for a public speaking presentation. I never knew what it meant to breathe through my feet, but now I do, and it is definitely an exercise that helped me feel more grounded. This is a technique that will stick with me for life.
During lunch we listened to a panel of successful career driven women – a Heart Surgeon, a Lawyer, a Political Professional, and a Software Engineer. It was so inspiring to hear their stories and how they climbed the career ladder in their male dominated fields. They were both educational and inspirational, and they all have #girlboss attributes.
Helping the teens build their business cards and “elevator pitch” was my favorite part! Getting your point across in 30 seconds is no easy task. I was impressed with their ability to do so. This is something I still struggle with!
I also met many wonderful women with impressive careers. It was great to feel a part of something and like I’m not alone in my mission and values. At the end of the day we were asked to use one word to best describe how we were feeling. My word was motivated.
I can’t wait to participate in my next Step Up event!
Photo courtesy of Step Up
Alexis Mera Damen is the Founder of Alexis Mera, a small and authentic Brooklyn Based Women’s Loungewear Brand with a Philanthropic Spirit. The Brands collections are meticulously crafted in New York City’s Garment District and sold at www.alexismera.com.
Alexis Mera values face-to-face communication with the factory owner and fair and ethical working conditions. On a mission to share her craft while contributing to the empowerment of young women, ten percent of sales each quarter are donated to Women’s Charities that align themselves with Alexis’ beliefs and values. Alexis Mera’s current partnership is with Step Up, a women’s non-profit organization that believes all girls should have the opportunity to fulfill their potential. Alexis lives and works in beautiful Ditmas Park, Brooklyn with her husband, Márcio dos Santos, who is also the man behind her robust e-commerce website.