FORCE recognizes our passionate volunteers by shining the light on their outstanding work throughout the year.
Cindy Messman, a Peer Navigator volunteer, is very grateful for the opportunities that FORCE has provided. She has connected with so many amazing men and women at FORCE conferences, group meetings, and through the Peer Navigation Program. This journey is special and unique and she is forever thankful for FORCE, as she has been able to share her experience and support others through their journey.
Brenda Lam, Marlene Cunningham and Amy Yoffe, Outreach Leader Volunteers in West Valley/Ventura, California, each has a unique story. They reflect the diversity in the journeys of those who attend their support meetings and who they meet for coffee to offer support. They felt empowered by FORCE to make educated decisions, to find doctors and surgeons who understood their risk and to feel supported every step of the way. Now they are paying it forward to make sure others feel the same.
FORCE was there for me when I needed it most and 14 years later, continues to be there at different stages in this lifelong journey. It is for precisely this reason that I am most grateful to FORCE... compassion and understanding is always within reach. And it is also for this reason that I became an outreach leader volunteer so that high-risk New Mexicans have a place to go to see familiar faces and know that they are not alone.
A heartfelt thank you to Sandra, FORCE’s helpline volunteer, who has been providing support to individuals around the country since 2010. Her family has been impacted by the BRCA genetic mutation. She has spoken to women and men from all over the country and has been enriched by this experience.
As cancer genetic counselors, we begin our relationships as genetics experts and educators; further, as FORCE Outreach Leader volunteers, we are blessed to become humbled and inspired by witnessing and being a part of the very best of human dignity, kindness, community and love. We are grateful that we are not only able to provide educational programming but also that we are able to provide a safe and secure environment where individuals can honestly reveal themselves and share their experiences, joys and fears.
At the age of 19, when Elana Fata learned about her BRCA2 genetic mutation, she reached out to FORCE to obtain support and resources to help her let go of her fears. Now, as a passionate Peer Navigator volunteer, she is paying it forward to help others live their lives empowered and not feel alone as they face important decisions to manage cancer risk. Thank you, Elana, for making a difference to our community! We are very lucky to have you on our VolunteerFORCE team!
As Outreach Leader volunteers for over 5 years, we each bring a different family history and experience to support individuals affected. Eileen is a stage 4 breast cancer survivor who inherited her BRCA1 mutation from her father. Tami is a previvor who inherited her BRCA2 mutation from her mother. Our personal experiences along with our partnership with the genetics department of a major southeast Michigan hospital and the attendance of a genetic counselor make our Detroit FORCE meetings unique and empowering. Our goal is to instill a sense of power to individuals by providing knowledge and confidence to conquer fear and take a positive step towards a healthier future.
David is a Peer Navigator and Research Advocate volunteer. He became involved because FORCE is about family and our common goal to safeguard our families. Through FORCE, he discovered more ways to help himself and his relatives who might be affected. Thank you David for helping other pancreatic cancer survivors and their caregivers understand their options.
As a Peer Navigator, Peer Support Group Leader and Helpline volunteer, Annette listens carefully and provides empowering information to those who seek her support. We are so thankful for the endless support that Annette provides to others. She became a volunteer because she “finds joy in being able to give the same support as others gave to me”. Annette has turned an extremely challenging situation into a fulfilling life experience making connections to new friends.
Tammy enjoys providing peer support as a FORCE Peer Navigator over the phone and as a Peer Support Group Leader at local face-to-face events. FORCE is so grateful for the time and passion she devotes in these positions to help individuals and families in our community manage their cancer risk. She feels very lucky to have learned about her mutation and finds volunteering extremely rewarding to ensure that other mutation carriers have better choices and options than she did.
Kate has shared her personal and professional experiences as an ovarian cancer survivor and public health expert to represent the hereditary cancer community as a consumer reviewer with the Department of Defense Ovarian Cancer Research panel and as a patient advocate with Bayer pharmaceuticals. Thank you Kate for volunteering and making a difference as a FORCE Research Advocate.
As a TeamFORCE Ambassador for the runDisney races, Jan combines her love of running with her passion for raising awareness about HBOC and much needed funds for FORCE. We are so grateful for her passionate dedication and help in establishing FORCE as a participating charity in the runDisney weekend events. Thank you, Jan, for finding a fun way for individuals and families to raise awareness with this exciting activity and for consistently exceeding all fundraising goals for the many races you participant in yourself.
Jill Oster, Janelle Morrison and Katrina Wells, Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey Peer Support Group Leaders, are passionate women dedicated to raising awareness and providing support to others facing hereditary cancer in their community. They enjoy getting together throughout the year with local constituents at meetings and social gatherings to ensure no one travels this journey alone. FORCE is extremely grateful to have them on the VolunteerFORCE team.
Susan Davis, a research advocate and peer support group leader volunteer, has devoted over 10 years to making a difference for the HBOC community through support, education, advocacy, awareness, research and fundraising. After her breast cancer diagnosis and discovery of her BRCA 1 mutation, she researched her genealogy and created an extensive tri-fold display board in the shape of a family tree along with photos and details of 16 family members affected to show how a genetic mutation can devastate an entire family. Her passion is to empower individuals and encourage them to look at their own family tree, collect family health information, and share the information with others to pay it forward.
FORCE is honored to spotlight Jane Herman, one of two inspirational New York City Peer Support Group Leaders and a FRAT Advocate. Unbeknownst to Jane and her family, a BRCA2 mutation lurking in their genes caused the breast cancer that took the life of her mom. Today, its presence motivates her to raise awareness about such mutations, helping to prevent other families from enduring what hers went through because they didn’t know the mutation was there. Jane’s passionate volunteer actions not only honor the memory of her mother, but also contribute to the Jewish concept of “tikkun olan” – repairing our world.
Rosemary Ciotti is passionate about supporting genetic research and making sure that our community has a voice and is heard. She completed the FORCE Research Advocate Training (FRAT) Program and currently serves as the a FORCE liaison to the Society of Molecular Medicine and Medical Imaging (SNMMI) where she represents the interests of the HBOC community and recently spearheaded a successful patient education day in San Diego, CA during the 2016 SNMMI annual conference.
Teri Woodhull is a strong and inspirational woman who is deeply invested in educating others about resources available to help stop cancer in families. She refuses to live in fear of the “what-if's”. Instead, she chooses to live with joy and appreciation; and part of that appreciation is choosing to be an active part of our inspiring FORCE community! Teri volunteers as a Peer Support Group Leader in Minnesota, a FRAT research advocate, a Peer Navigator, a special projects and fundraising volunteer.
Dr. Marleah Dean Kruzel is an Assistant Professor in Health Communication at the University of South Florida, Tampa, FL. She studies patient-provider health communication and is currently examining genetics and risk communication in the context of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. A BRCA2 previvor herself, Marleah is committed to translating her research into practice, which is why she volunteers at FORCE and maintains a blog called "The Patient and The Professor."
On December 7, 2015 we lost a passionate and valued FORCE Volunteer from Cleveland, OH. With much pride, Marybeth shared her experiences and expertise to help others in the HBOC community. We are so grateful for all of the time and effort she devoted to FORCE and the broader cancer community. Marybeth, you are irreplaceable to us and you will always be remembered. Thank you for making a difference in our community!
Rona Greenberg and Jessie and Dave Bushman make up the support team for the Northern Jersey FORCE group. They are all graduates of the VolunteerFORCE Academy and are certified as Peer Support Group Leaders.
Genetic counseling students from Arcadia University in suburban Philadelphia are a group of inspiring and passionate men and women who always jump in to assist FORCE at important events whenever needed.
What I love about FORCE is that all of the information is carefully vetted and expertly reviewed so you know that what you are reading is reliable. Being a healthcare professional, I appreciate and understand the importance of evidence-based and empirically tested information. While FORCE never makes recommendations for any specific treatment, it does give you the tools and information to make educated decisions about your health as it relates to HBOC.
After being diagnosed with the BRCA 2 gene mutation my genetic counselor had directed me to the FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered website. I immediately took an interest in this organization. I knew that FORCE was an organization that I wanted to be involved with. FORCE provided me with knowledge when I felt lost or scared about something BRCA related. I am blessed to have this organization on my side.
Having never heard of BRCA1, HBOC, FORCE, ABOUT, and a host of other acronyms a few years ago, I have now found my spot in this community, and want to help others find their spot as well. Although I don't know where my HBOC journey will take me, I know that helping others via FORCE is definitely part of my destiny.
Robin and Cole are FORCE Pittsburgh, PA Peer Support Group Leaders and graduates of FRAT (FORCE Research Advocacy Training) program. Robin serves on the ABOUT Steering Committee and assists with the TeamFORCE program. Both previvors, they credit the local FORCE support group for not only providing the resources they needed to make informed decisions, but also provided them with the emotional support they needed to heal.
Debbie Setuain and Christy Thacker are our South Florida Outreach Coordinators. Read about their personal journies and how they became inspried to educate, empower, and support other families affected by this horrible disease so no one has to go through their journey alone.
I began my career in genetic counseling at a university clinic that saw families with all types of genetic concerns, including reproductive, pediatric, cancer and neuro. After many years in this setting, I was fortunate to be able to switch gears and join the InformedDNA team. When I made that change, I was also able to focus my career more on families with concerns for hereditary cancer syndromes.
Brian first became aware of HBOC as a sophomore in high school when a family member tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation. He began his involvement with FORCE when he volunteered at the 2010 Joining Forces Conference in Orlando, Florida. With a close connection to HBOC, volunteering for FORCE has been a transformative experience.
Mary Orloff and Brandi Forbes are FORCE Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Outreach Coordinators. For years, we have worked together to spread awareness, to share vital HBOC information, and to be there for our local members.
I consider myself to be an incredibly lucky person - lucky to be alive, lucky to be in the first generation of women with HBOC who have a chance to live a normal lifespan, lucky to live in a city with some of best hospitals in the world, lucky to have found FORCE, and lucky to have the opportunity to help FORCE members make informed decisions.
Growing up, I heard many stories about my maternal grandmother's struggles with breast cancer. She lost her battle at the age of 37 when my mother, an only child, was only 16. My mom taught me at an early age about performing self-exams. She was a worrier and constantly reminded me to take care of myself.
I first learned about hereditary breast and ovarian cancer genetic testing more than 12 years ago, when my cousin who had breast cancer tested positive for a BRCA mutation. At that time, I was single and eager to ignore this information. But it was always in the back of my mind.
My wife, Ziva, tested BRCA1 positive in 2000 and this changed our lives. We embarked on a journey that led to reading the existing studies, interviewing breast and plastic surgeons, risk-reduction surgeries, recoveries, follow ups, more surgeries, and trying to get back to a new normal. We were a BRCA couple.
Family and sunshine warmed my kitchen table one Sunday morning in May of 2009. Shared laughter and stories were suddenly interrupted by a serious look on my uncle's face: He informed us that his daughter, recently diagnosed with breast cancer, had tested positive for a BRCA mutation and that her genetic counselor had suggested our family should also be tested.
It was September 30, 2011, and my genetic counselor walked into the exam room. "The good news is that your breast MRI is fine," she said. I knew right away as I replied, "But I have a BRCA mutation."
I asked my 9 year old daughter to write what she knew about her risk of cancer. I know I am definitely at risk. I love my mom because she is brave and if anything ever happens I'll still have her.
The 2010 FORCE conference provided my sister and me invaluable information that helped us make important life-saving decisions.
When I was alone and scared, FORCE was my life line and being that life line for others has been such a rewarding experience.
Heather Fineman was 35 when her late mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.