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Voices: Spirit of Empowerment: A Family Gives Back

by Sue Friedman

Dara MariasOur Spirit of Empowerment Awards shine the light on people who make a difference for our community. Dara and Molly Marias and Myron Caplan received the award for creating the Brenda L. Caplan Memorial Scholarship Fund and The Butterfly Project. Below are excerpts from Dara’s acceptance speech.

On behalf of our family, we are overwhelmed. We already received the most special gift from FORCE, a scholarship fund in my mom’s name. I would like to share 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 BRCA1-positive. My mother, Brenda, had both breast and ovarian cancer. Her half-sister died in her 30s of breast cancer. My grandmother had bilateral breast cancer. Even my non-biological aunt is BRCA2-positive. Hereditary cancer–or the risk of it–is everywhere we look in our family.

With each generation the options become exponentially better. When my mother was diagnosed, no one suggested genetic testing despite her age and family history. Had she been tested and had her ovaries removed, maybe her outcome could have been different. We now have treatments specifically tailored to the genetic make-up of a tumor. We have researchers who seek to understand our unique population from a treatment and prevention perspective. With these advances, the most influential generational change relates to the creation of FORCE. Through FORCE, women and men find support, friendship, inspiration and knowledge. FORCE gives us opportunities to acquire information and find compassion and identity. FORCE is at the forefront of leadership on issues which affect the rights of our community.

We all have very individual and personal reasons for attending this conference. Yet, we share one fundamental unifying belief. None of us views ourselves as victims. Whether we have cancer or a genetic predisposition, whether we care for or treat someone with hereditary cancer, we are all empowered. We cannot control our genes, but we can control how we respond to the hand life has dealt us. Instead of victims, we are people committed to helping each other and the generations to come.

This desire to give back to the organization that helped me so much led to the creation of The Butterfly Project. Molly’s idea to help people affected by hereditary cancer grew into a namesake memorial fund for my mom to provide support to FORCE members who could not otherwise afford 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 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…those people will hold your hand tight. They will keep you steady and help you navigate the winding road over the mountains that seem so large. 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. That is how we face our risk of cancer: empowered as a community.

We thank you very much for this award and support!

Dara Marias is a BRCA1 previvor who lost her mother to breast and ovarian cancer. Dara lives in Las Vegas with her husband, Ken, and their children Molly and Adam. She serves as General Counsel and V.P. of Human Resources for WASINC International, a pilot leasing company. In her spare time, Dara advises The Giving Grizzlies, a community service club for elementary school children, and works to raise money for The Butterfly Project in support of FORCE.

Share Your Story

Do you have something to say that may inform our readers or ease their experience? We invite you to share your reflections or personal story about dealing with the issues of hereditary breast or ovarian cancer. Tell us how you feel, how you cope, or what you’ve learned. E-mail stories of 500-550 words to info@facingourrisk.org or mail to FORCE, 16057 Tampa Palms Blvd. W., Tampa, FL 33647. Please include your name and daytime telephone number so we can contact you if we decide to publish your story in a future issue.

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