At our conference in June, we continued a new tradition by presenting our second Spirit of Empowerment Awards. They recognize the contributions of individuals and organizations that help FORCE support the hereditary breast and ovarian cancer community and allow us to shine the light on individuals and organizations who are making a significant difference for the almost one million people affected by these hereditary cancers in the United States. Dara and Molly Marias and Myron Caplan were given the award for creating the Brenda L. Caplan Memorial Scholarship Fund and the Butterfly Project. Young Molly Marias along with her Mom, Dara, created the Butterfly Project as part of her Bat Mitzvah project to continue to raise money and grow the scholarship fund and its reach. These funds helped us bring 75 people to our conference on scholarship this year.
Everyone in attendance was moved by Dara’s words and since we were asked by so many to share it, below are excerpts from her acceptance speech.
On behalf of my dad, Molly, and our family, we are overwhelmed. I feel that we already received the most special gift and recognition from FORCE…that of having a scholarship fund in my mom’s name.
In accepting this award today, I would like to take a few moments to share with everyone here how FORCE has impacted our lives, and what this project has meant to our family.
Like so many in this room, our family’s lives have been irretrievably affected by hereditary cancer. I am BRCA 1 positive. My mother, Brenda, had both breast and ovarian cancer. Her half-sister died in her 30’s of breast cancer. My grandmother had bilateral breast cancer. Even my non-biological aunt, is BRCA 2 positive. In short, hereditary cancer– or the risk of it–is everywhere we look in our family.
The good news, however, is that with each generation the options become exponentially better. When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, no one suggested genetic testing to her despite her young age and strong family history. Had my mom been tested, and had her ovaries been removed, maybe her outcome could have been different.
But it is not just the prevalence of genetic testing that makes me optimistic. We now have treatments specifically tailored to the genetic make-up of a tumor. We have researchers who develop studies that seek to understand our unique population from both a treatment and prevention perspective.
Along with these important advances, in my mind, the broadest and most influential generational change for our community relates to the creation of FORCE and the passion of its members. Through FORCE, women and men affected by hereditary cancer find support, friendship, inspiration and most of all, knowledge. FORCE gives us unparalleled opportunities to acquire information and to find compassion and identity. FORCE is at the forefront of political leadership on issues and laws which affect the legal rights of our community.
Looking around this room, I know that we all have very individual and personal reasons for attending this conference. Some of us are previvors. We know or suspect we have a genetic mutation, and we come to this conference to understand our prevention and surveillance options. Others here are fighting hereditary cancer with bravery and dignity, and they seek knowledge of cutting edge treatment options available to eradicate their disease. Some are here professionally as doctors, researchers, geneticists, nutritionists, and counselors who help us treat, and prevent hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. And, finally, I can see the family members and friends—those who have the very difficult job of standing on the sidelines, watching and caring.
We all come together for different reasons. Yet, I believe we share one fundamental unifying belief. None of us here views ourselves as victims. Whether we have cancer, or a genetic predisposition, whether we care for or treat someone with hereditary cancer issues, we are all of us empowered. We cannot control our genes, but we can control how we respond to the hand life has dealt us. Instead of victims of chance genetic circumstance, we are people committed to helping each other and the generations yet to come.
For my family, this commitment and our desire to give back to the organization that personally helped me so much, led to the creation of The Butterfly Project. What started out as Molly’s idea to help people affected by hereditary cancer, rapidly grew into a namesake memorial fund for my mom and an ongoing scholarship program to provide monetary support to FORCE members who could not otherwise afford to attend this Conference.
Finally, for those of you who are somewhat new to FORCE, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When you joined FORCE, you also took your place in a chain of people.
Right now you may have one hand extended forward holding on to the hands of those who have walked this road before you. I am here to tell you that those people will hold your hand tight. They will keep you steady, and they will help you navigate the winding road over the mountains that seem so large. And, one day before you know it, you will cross those mountains and reach a beautiful valley. And when you arrive, your other arm will automatically reach back and grab on to those behind you, who you will now help. Because that is how it is done in FORCE. That is how we face our risk of cancer—we face it empowered as a community. On behalf of everyone who empowered the Butterfly Project, we thank you very much for this award and support!