As an avid outdoorswoman and an ovarian cancer survivor, Sean Patrick saw connections between both sides of her life. She once said: “The skills women learn in climbing—problem solving, risk taking and confidence in their decision making—will enable them to climb all the mountains in their lives.” In 2001, while recovering from her seventh ovarian cancer surgery, Sean organized a rock climbing event in Salt Lake City that she dubbed Climb4LifeSM. One year later, she was inspired to establish the HERA Women’s Cancer Foundation.
HERA is named both for the mythological wife of Zeus, often considered the first feminist, and as an acronym for Health, Empowerment, Research and Awareness. The organization’s mission is to promote those four areas. “We’re trying to move the ball forward and make more people aware of ovarian cancer,” says Executive Director Meg Steitz.
From that first event in Utah, Climb4LifeSM has grown to include annual events in four cities: Boulder, CO; Washington, DC; Boston, MA; and Salt Lake City, UT. “All kinds of folks attend,” notes Meg. “We see everyone from people who love outdoor sports, to the rock climbing community, to ovarian cancer survivors and their families.” The vast majority of funds raised—88 percent—go to support HERA’s programs. HERA’s next Climb4LifeSM will take place March 2-3, 2013, in Boston.
In addition to the climbing events, HERA receives funding from a series of women-only 5K and 8K “Run Like a Girl” races in locations across the United States. In 2012, the rock climbing company Petzl helped support HERA by donating entries to each of the Ragnar Relays—overnight, 200 mile, 12-person relay runs. Runners organized by HERA have raised nearly $20,000 by taking part in the Ragnar Relays. “All of these activities help broaden our reach,” notes Meg, “And they support our mission of women’s health.”
These fundraising efforts help underwrite HERA’s programs, including grants for scientific research and community education. The organization’s scientific research grants focus on young researchers working on outside-the-box projects that “are meant to encourage creative thinking in ovarian cancer research,” as well as collaborative projects involving at least two researchers working together. In addition to funding scientific research, HERA supports five nonprofits each year that are raising awareness about ovarian cancer in novel or unusual ways. Among the 2012 grantees were two Partner Members of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance and the Mautner Project, which focuses on materials for lesbian and transgender women.
This September, HERA collaborated with three other ovarian cancer groups on a one-day summit in Denver. Intended for survivors and their caregivers, the summit featured presentations on health, wellness, nutrition, coping with cancer and genetic testing. “It was a great event!” says Meg.
Meg believes that the Alliance’s mission complements HERA’s work: “The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance’s focus on advocacy really extends our reach. The Alliance allows the ovarian cancer community to speak with one powerful voice.” She also values the networking opportunities with other ovarian cancer organizations. “It’s great to know that we’re not working alone—we’re supported and also supporting.”
Although Sean Patrick passed away in 2009, her vision lives on through HERA. The foundation celebrates its 10th Anniversary this year, and continues Sean’s work to promote health, empowerment, research and awareness for women with ovarian cancer.