Woman to Woman: In The Beginning
Today, sixteen hospitals across the country run Woman to Woman programs and OCRF is adding new sites every year. But Woman to Woman started small over ten years ago, with just one motivated woman who was committed to making a difference. Valerie Goldfein’s experience, first as a patient and then as a survivor of ovarian cancer, inspired her to establish a program that would provide the comfort she longed for during her battle with the disease. Valerie and Mt. Sinai’s renowned Gynecologic Oncologist, Dr. Peter Dottino, established the Woman to Woman program at the hospital to ensure that women treated there would be part of their own special community inspiring one another through shared experiences. Today, women around the country are receiving guidance, support and love thanks to the Woman to Woman program.
The diagnosis of cancer is often life-changing, and Valerie was no exception. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1999, Valerie remembers that “I felt like the world as I knew it would never be the same.” With a solid personal and professional support system, Valerie felt fortunate but recalled that “it was such an isolating, lonely, scary feeling… I longed for someone to contact me and say, ‘You are not alone; I’m here for you. You must have a million questions. Let’s talk.’”
It was this longing coupled with a sense of mission and determination that led Valerie to approach the Mount Sinai Hospital Auxiliary Board in September 2003. Her idea—a peer to peer support program for women with gynecologic cancer– was granted seed money. After months of planning and coordinating with doctors, nurses, social workers, patients and hospital administrators, the program officially launched on December 31, 2003. Arden Moulton, the program’s first and current Program Coordinator, began her work of connecting survivors with newly diagnosed patients with the hope that women struggling to see a future beyond cancer would be given true life examples of hope and perseverance.
Now, over ten years later, the original Woman to Woman program at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York is still going strong. “The group of survivor volunteers at Mount Sinai is unique. We are women from disparate backgrounds whose ages span four decades, we are in various stages of recovery and recurrence, and yet we share a strong common bond: we are all survivors dedicated to giving back by improving the lives of women diagnosed with gynecologic cancer,” says Valerie. “We have sat at patients’ bedsides after diagnosis, accompanied patients to chemotherapy, laughed and cried with them, and held their hands as they went to surgery. Our first-hand experience, coupled with the ongoing training, equips us with the skills and empathy to achieve our mission.”
OCRF began funding the Woman to Woman Program at Mt. Sinai Hospital in 2005, and with financial support from QVC, started to expand the program nationally in 2012. For Valerie, the expansion has been a powerful confirmation that the program she founded is one that filled a much needed gap in the process of treating a gynecologic cancer. “It is now 14 years since my diagnosis, and I remain cancer-free and left with a profound sense of gratitude for all my good fortune. I have an even keener appreciation for the beauty and wonder of my everyday life, which is blessed with a wonderful husband, children, grandchildren, a multitude of friends, and last but not least all of the magnificent women who are associated with Woman to Woman.”
Valerie reflects, “I believe we fill a desperate need that patients are sometimes not aware of, but are always grateful for at such a difficult time in their lives. The late Tony Snow wrote, ‘Although cancer is not a blessing, it has helped me understand the real power of kindness and concern, as if I had been hoisted up on the shoulders of others who had taken up my burden and raised me up.’ This is the idea of Woman to Woman.”
QVC Presents Super Saturday Live Shares Woman to Woman With Millons of Viewers
The incredible participants of OCRF’s Woman to Woman Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven made their national debut on QVC last summer when the program’s Physician Champion, Dr. Elena Ratner, the Program Coordinator, Nina Carusillo and mentors, Amy Miller and Debra Levin, as well as Amy’s mentee, Kimberly Pasko, starred in two videos beamed into millions of homes as part of the live two-hour broadcast from the fairgrounds of OCRF’s annual Super Saturday fundraising event.
QVC has produced a number of videos featuring the program and this year sent a camera crew to New Haven, CT to spend the day with and document the progress and impact of Woman to Woman on program participants at the Smilow Cancer Hospital. The resulting video, which, along with the others created can be seen here, show the life-changing impact of the program.
Since 2007, “QVC Presents Super Saturday LIVE” has raised awareness about ovarian cancer and OCRF in millions of U.S. homes and generated $7.5 million to fund both ovarian cancer research and the Woman to Woman program. OCRF’s Super Saturday is a day-long fundraising event for the entire family and features a large sale of top designer items discounted 30-50% off of their retail price. All proceeds from sales of merchandise, tickets and tables go toward funding OCRF’s programs, including vital ovarian cancer research by the nation’s top scientists as they seek to end this terrible disease.
Thanks to the Woman to Woman staff and program participants at Smilow Cancer Hospital for giving their time to us and sharing their stories with the world!
Thank you to the Woman to Woman staff and program participants at Smilow Cancer Hospital for giving their time to us and sharing their stories with the world!
Send us an email and tell us why you think your Woman to Woman program should be featured on QVC Presents Super Saturday Live.
16 and Growing! Woman to Woman Program Expands in 2014
OCRF is very proud of the growth of the Woman to Woman program in the last three years. In 2014 OCRF funded the creation of six new programs:
* City of Hope in Duarte, CA
* Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh, PA
* Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD
* Oregon Health & Sciences University in Portland, OR
* Stony Brook University Cancer Center in Stony Brook, NY
* University of Chicago in Chicago, IL.
In just two years, Woman to Woman program has expanded to 16 sites around the United States.
The new sites are part of the program’s national expansion efforts which launched in 2012 when QVC made a three year, $1 million commitment to help OCRF grow the program. In 2011 OCRF piloted the program’s national expansion at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. With QVC’s support, OCRF expanded the program to 8 sites, including:
* Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, Providence, RI
* Tulane Cancer Center, New Orleans, LA
* Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX
* Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY
* Duke Cancer Institute in Durham, NC
* Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven in New Haven, CT
* Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL
* Stanford Women’s Cancer Center in Stanford, CA.
“We hope to expand to at least 15 new cities within the next three years, building a strong community of support to empower more women to advocate for themselves and negotiate the many challenges of gynecologic cancer,” said Audra Moran, OCRF’s CEO.
Know of a great medical institution that could be a candidate for a Woman to Woman grant? Learn more about the application and process and download our 2014 guidelines here.
In Their Own Words: Stories from Woman to Woman Participants
Amy Miller volunteers as a mentor for Woman to Woman at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven in Connecticut. A survivor and now one who is giving back through the program, she felt compelled to write this poem to explain the uniqueness and importance of the relationship fostered by Woman to Woman. Amy explained that the piece is “…a little ‘creative’ explanation on what the mentor role is and how it differs from the concern and support we get from loved ones. Sometimes that’s hard to explain and we don’t want to sound ungrateful to our loved ones.”
The Loved One and the Mentor
I am swimming off shore, further than is safe, and I am not much of swimmer, though I can tread water and keep my head above it. I can’t get back in because the current is strong but I can pretty much stay in place, losing a little ground but slowly. You see me. You see I am in trouble. You could stay on shore and make an effort to call for help but it is an isolated beach and help would be long in coming. You make the choice to swim out to where I am. You get close enough so we can converse and I feel your sense of urgency and upset. I know you want to help and you may even try, swimming close enough to extend your arm. I try to grab hold but don’t have the strength to maintain my grasp and I slip a little further away. You don’t want to leave me. I see it in your eyes, a desperate sadness. But, ultimately, you have to save yourself. There is no option. Staying with me would mean we both would drown. And we both know that’s ridiculous. So I hold both the desire for you to live, to swim back to shore AND the great sense of sadness that I am alone
And then, the strangest thing, a woman swims toward me. I don’t know where she came from. I don’t know who she is. She’s not the steadiest or strongest of swimmers but as she nears me I see such confidence in her eyes.
“I know these waters,” she says. “I’ve swum here before. Follow me.”
And I do. And before long, we’ve reached a sandbar, invisible from the surface. And as we reach it, she stands and gently pulls me up. It feels so good to feel the wet sand beneath my feet. I start to feel a sense of hope. “There’s another one'” she points to an area a little closer to shore. Another sandbar, though I couldn’t see it. And we swim to it. And rest a moment there. And another. And so on, like stepping stones toward the shore. And before long, we reach the beach and without looking back, continue walking to what awaits us beyond.
If you have a story, poem or other thoughts you would like to share for a future Woman to Woman newsletter, please contact your program coordinator.
OCRF Around the Country
OCRF’s mission to fund scientific research that leads to more effective identification, treatment, and ultimately a cure for ovarian cancer, as well as related educational and support initiatives, is made possible in part thanks to the generosity of our national corporate partners, who donate a portion of sales from their products while raising much-needed ovarian cancer awareness. These important campaigns often launch in September in honor of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, with many extending throughout the year. To learn about current partnerships and ways to support OCRF, please visit the online shop.
Throughout the year, OCRF also hosts and benefits from many events across the country. We welcome everyone, from experienced cyclists to novices, to participate in our Ovarian Cycle indoor spinning events taking place in 17 cities this year, with new rides often added. And, you can learn about our passionate OCRF Team Hope members who are making a difference every day by launching new initiatives online and in their communities. You can learn about all the ways they’re making a difference, continue to receive this Woman to Woman enewsletter, and receive all OCRF communications in the future by joining our mailing list.
We’re grateful to all our supporters who unite to help change the future!