Dear September

I felt this would an appropriate title for my first blog, for this September will be held dear to our hearts at Unite for HER (UFH). As we announced earlier this summer, we are preparing for a year of great change; the UFH Wellness Program has expanded to support women affected by ovarian cancer. In addition, we will be hosting our first Wellness Day in Delaware, while continuing to build more partnerships in New Jersey and Philadelphia.

We could not be more grateful for the support we have received to launch these new initiatives. The generosity and commitment to our mission has enabled us to be by the sides of over 5,000 women since 2009. This year, we will support more than 1,800 women newly diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, as well as provide ongoing support for those facing recurrent ovarian cancer or living with metastatic breast cancer.

Answering the Call

For nine and a half years the official Unite for HER phone line was my personal cell phone. As word of our programming spread throughout the region, I began to receive requests to join our program regularly. Newly-diagnosed women called, anxious, but excited about a “Wellness Day” recommended by a friend, an acupuncturist, or therapist, and I held my breath as I asked, “Do you have breast cancer?” My heart would become heavy when they said, “No, I have ovarian cancer,” and I would brace myself for the stress and disappointment when I explained that they did not qualify for our program. For years I would field these difficult calls and direct women to our online resource page to learn about complementary therapies, each time explaining that we did not have resources to fund a year-long program for ovarian cancer patients…at least not yet.

What if?

After years of building our Wellness Program and growing closer to our goal to support all women affected by breast cancer in the Philadelphia region, we began to think to the future of Unite for HER. I was brought back to those heart-wrenching conversations.

“I guess I got the wrong cancer.”

There is a genetic link between breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and a wealth of research that proves the benefits of complementary therapies (like acupuncture) for breast cancer patients. We began to wonder, what if we opened our arms just a little bit wider? What if we could extend our programming to women with ovarian cancer?

Our team hosts over 40 Wellness Days annually, partnering with local hospitals and cancer centers to reach women newly diagnosed or re-diagnosed with breast cancer. The program is funded by our signature fundraising events, and we budget for every attendee at each event; often there are last-minute cancellations at events, and we are faced with empty seats. What if those empty seats were reserved for ovarian patients?

Creating a Plan

We pitched our plan to our earliest supporters, The Holloway Family Foundation, to see if they would provide funding for the program. They believed in our program nine years ago and saw the impact of complementary therapies on breast cancer patients—surely, they would activate to support these women too. They did. Thanks to the generous support of the Holloway Family Foundation, Crozer Chester Medical CenterThe Foundation for Delaware CountyFox Chase Cancer CenterAbington-Jefferson Health, and Paoli Hospital, in 2018, we launched our official pilot program to support ovarian cancer patients.

Throughout the fall, we welcomed a total of 55 women with ovarian cancer into our Wellness Program, educating them about incorporating complementary therapies like medical acupuncture, oncology massage, whole-food nutrition, reiki, supported yoga and more, into their treatment plan. Each of these women was given our “Wellness Passport,” allowing her to choose the therapies that best supported her unique needs, all fully funded by Unite for HER. From our very first ovarian participant, we could feel the impact.  

“Ovarian cancer gets overlooked because it isn’t as common. I felt so sad that I hadn’t been getting any support because I happened to have the ‘wrong’ female cancer. But all of that has changed now because of Unite for HER. I am ever so grateful.”

-Nancy, Ovarian Pilot Program Participant

By HER Side

After successfully completing the pilot program, we embarked on a new goal: to permanently expand the Unite for HER Wellness Program and ensure that no woman, whether affected by breast or ovarian cancer, is left behind. After careful planning and budgeting, this goal is becoming reality, and our Wellness Day Programs moving forward will include ovarian cancer patients, starting with our first Wellness Day on September 19, 2019.

Unite for HER Wellness Passport

Each woman will receive a “Wellness Passport,” that can be used to create a custom complementary treatment plan. Participants can redeem this passport for treatments of medical acupuncture, whole food nutritional counseling, oncology massage, Reiki, psychological counseling, sexual health counseling, or yoga, and more. All provided by our network of approved care providers and funded by Unite for HER. In total, each woman will receive up to $2,000 worth of complementary therapies and supportive services at no personal cost.

A New Beginning

So, that brings us to today: the first of September, the first day of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, where I hold back the tears, clear the lump in my throat as I write this blog, and give thanks for the ability to serve in a way that is truly changing lives.

I am forever humbled and grateful for this great responsibility to walk with these women. We at Unite for HER are honored to be allowed to enter a very private, personal space, and it is with great humility and love that we will continue to walk by HER side.

If you live in the Philadelphia region and have been recently diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, are facing a recurrent ovarian cancer, or are living with metastatic cancer, please contact us to find out more about our Wellness Program.

 

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