The Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance (MOCA) formed in 1999, when a small group of survivors, united by their doctors, gathered around a dining room table. They realized the lack of ovarian cancer support in their community, and were intent on building a Minnesota ovarian cancer community, made up of survivors and caregivers. The founders were innovative and forward-thinking when developing their mission. “Besides support, their number one priority was to fund research,” says Rebecca Lechner, MOCA’s Communications Manager. “The research projects that MOCA is funding will change the course of the disease for current patients and will make a difference for future women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.” And since 1999, MOCA has provided an impressive $5+ million to ovarian cancer research projects in Minnesota. 2016 will be their biggest year yet, with a record $1 million given to research projects.
In addition to funding research, MOCA’s mission is also focused around providing support to women with ovarian cancer and their families. One unique and special way they do so is through the MOCA Dream Awards. The program is funded by private donors who wants to make the dreams of ovarian cancer survivors come true. Since the award’s inception, MOCA has given more than $200,000 to make the dreams of more than 70 women come true. The Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance is also dedicated to changing the lives of women with ovarian cancer through their MOCA Living Well Meetings and the MOCA Mentor program. The latter partners newly diagnosed ovarian cancer patients with a compatible survivor. The mentors provide one-on-one support through phone calls, ensuring that every ovarian cancer patient receives the support they need and deserve.
Raising awareness of ovarian cancer is another large part of MOCA’s mission. MOCA’s signature event for the past sixteen years has been the HOM Teal Strides for Ovarian Cancer Walk/Run, which brings together supporters from across Minnesota and the Midwest for an opportunity to bring awareness to the disease and raise important funds for research. The 2015 event had an astonishing 3,500 participants and raised over $300,000 for research. A special part of the day is gathering all the ovarian cancer survivors together for a group photo, demonstrating unity and survivorship. For some of these women, it is the first time they’ve met another ovarian cancer survivor. This year, their 17th annual HOM Teal Strides for Ovarian Cancer will take place in Edina, MN on September 10, 2016. MOCA also holds an annual Black, White, and Teal Gala. 400 guests attended the 2015 Gala. This year, the Gala will take place on Saturday, April 16th in Bloomington and will include a silent auction, dinner, and a spoken program with guest speaker Kim Johnson from WCCO and Keri Noble from Cities 97’s. To wrap up this jam-packed evening, there will be celebratory dancing. Another large way they raise awareness of the disease is through the creation and promotion of education materials, for both the general and medical community.
The Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance has long been connected with Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance (previously the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance) through combined advocacy efforts. Rebecca says that MOCA looks to the Alliance for leadership on legislative affairs. “The Alliance lets us know what is happening on Capitol Hill that would affect the ovarian cancer community, and we then in turn communicate it out to our community in Minnesota.” Rebecca says it is “priceless to have this connection” between the MOCA and the Alliance, and we at the Alliance certainly agree.
MOCA also works together with the Alliance in the fight against ovarian cancer through their involvement in the Survivors Teaching Students: Saving Women’s Lives® program in medical, PA, and nursing schools in Minnesota. The Stand Up to Cancer Ovarian Cancer Dream Team also provided another opportunity for the MOCA and the Alliance to partner together. “Funding the Stand Up to Cancer Team is a big opportunity for us, because it’s the first research project funding outside of Minnesota,” says Rebecca. MOCA has a close connection to this project, as Kathleen Gavin, MOCA’s executive director, is one of three patient advocates on the Ovarian Cancer Dream Team.
Since coming together at a dining room table, the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance has grown to a community of over 1,000 survivors, dedicated to funding innovative research, educating the public, local, and medical communities on the disease all while providing support to women with ovarian cancer and their families.