FORCE is dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. We believe no one should have to face hereditary breast and ovarian cancer alone.
Barbara discovered her BRCA1 mutation in 2003 after her mother had been battling breast cancer for over 12 years. Barbara's volunteer work with FORCE began the following year and continued to expand. Under her leadership, the volunteer operations of the organization grew to 75 groups nationwide. In 2012 Barbara assumed the full-time role of Chief Executive Officer, leading a growing staff as they carry out the strategic plans and policies of FORCE. A former Microsoft Corporation executive, Barbara brings more than 25 years of business experience to FORCE's operations.
Barbara and her husband Alan reside in Bayville, NJ.
Dr. Sue Friedman was practicing small animal medicine in south Florida in 1996 when she was diagnosed "out of the blue" at age 33 with breast cancer. At the time, she was unaware of familial risk factors for hereditary cancer. Reading an article about hereditary breast cancer after completing her treatment, Sue realized that she had several indications for a mutation. She pursued genetic counseling and, in 1997, tested positive for a BRCA2 mutation.
Shocked that her health care team didn't alert her to the possibility of being at high risk, and disappointed at having to make critical treatment decisions while unaware of her mutation, Sue acted so others could benefit from her misfortune. She founded FORCE in 1999 to fill the information void for individuals and families with hereditary cancer and to help them advocate for themselves. After five years as the organization's executive director (while maintaining her own busy practice), Sue left veterinary medicine to direct FORCE full-time. Since then, the organization has become an unequaled source of research, advocacy, support, and information regarding risk management, prevention, and awareness.
In 2004, Sue relocated her husband Dan, son Beau, and FORCE headquarters to Tampa to work more closely with researchers to improve medical options, care, and outcomes for people affected by hereditary cancer. She is a 20-year breast cancer survivor.
Sue is co-author of the book Confronting Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer, which was published by Johns Hopkins Press, February 2012.
After losing her 38-year-old grandmother and 54-year-old mother to hereditary cancer, Sandy grew up thinking that breast cancer was in her future. When Sandy learned of her BRCA1 mutation, she took proactive steps to greatly reduce her chances of this ever occurring to her. In 2006 she co-founded the FORCE outreach group in Philadelphia and has been developing FORCE's outreach program nationwide (which includes 50 support groups) since 2009. Sandy enjoys working with FORCE's incredibly passionate volunteer team, consisting of over 225 men and women in roles such as outreach coordinators, helpline volunteers, community liaisons and virtual support. She continues to recruit and train additional volunteers to help ensure that no one travels the hereditary cancer journey alone.
She is a former marketing director for Kraft/Alliant Foodservice and a graduate from American University with a BSBA in Marketing and an MBA in Marketing from St. Joseph's University. She lives in Lafayette Hill, PA with her husband Barry, their twins Sam and Emmie (who share her passion for volunteering) and dog Chloe.
Karen brings more than 20 years of strategic marketing and communications experience to her goal of increasing awareness about FORCE and helping families affected by hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
When Karen discovered she had a BRCA1 mutation in 2009, the information and support she received from FORCE helped her navigate her BRCA journey. As a previvor and FORCE volunteer, she spearheaded a social media growth campaign and efforts that led to the passage of a resolution by the U.S. House of Representatives recognizing National Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Week and National Previvor Day. Today, Karen's personal experiences and dedication to the FORCE cause drive her to build awareness and educate others.
Karen previously led marketing efforts for a startup software company, helping it become the international leader in its industry.
She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland with her husband and three children.
Ruth Kucharz has 18 years of non-profit development experience. She began her career working in reservation/sales for 10 years with the Walt Disney World Company. She successfully directed nation-wide fundraising programs for a large cancer organization in the roles of Marketing Director and Regional VP, accountable for high-end relationships, as well as oversight of 100+ fundraising walks, events, and galas. Prior to joining FORCE, Ruth was the Sr. Director of Annual Giving for the University of South Florida. In her time with USF, she directed a centralized, integrated annual giving program for the university through its accomplishment of a $600 million comprehensive campaign. Ruth has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Florida Southern College.
Ruth lost her mother to ovarian cancer and her grandmother to breast cancer. She and her husband Don love being with their children and grandchildren, so they divide their time between Florida and Minnesota.
After a high-risk pregnancy and long-term hospital stays for both herself and her premature twins, Baleigh knew that when she reentered the workforce she wanted to be involved with bringing hope to others facing difficult medical circumstances. She was happy to have found such a role when joining FORCE in 2017.
Baleigh began her career at The Walt Disney Company in various administrative and resource positions with Merchandise Product Development and Creative Entertainment, and began working for MetLife in insurance benefits administration after relocating to Tampa. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Event Management from the University of Central Florida.
Baleigh lives in the Tampa Bay area with her husband, Jayson, and their children, Avelyn and Slade.
Kelly Owens, PhD, brings over 20 years of experience in the field of genetics to FORCE as Director of Research and Education.
As a postdoctoral researcher with Dr. Mary-Claire King, she studied cancer risk in families with BRCA mutations. Working as the interface between researchers, genetic counselors and the hereditary breast and ovarian cancer community, she was involved in the New York Breast Cancer Study and NSABP tamoxifen trial examining impact on BRCA carriers. Her later research focused on the genetics of hearing loss and preventive drug development. She has published multiple peer-reviewed articles, holds several patents and successfully helped lead an academic drug development project through its translational phase to small start-up business.
Kelly has been a science educator and advocate throughout her career. She has taught genetics and biology at the University of Washington, been an advocate in the WA schools and an awarded public speaker. Her position at FORCE allows her to meld her research acumen and passion for science education with a desire to give back to the community.
Kelly lives in Seattle, WA, near her grown son, with an elderly dog and lively kitten.
Jackie began her association with FORCE while finishing her master's thesis and working as an administrative assistant for the organization. She quickly began taking on additional responsibilities before becoming the organization's Director of Operations in 2008 and then in 2014 becoming the Vice President of Finance and Operations. Jackie works closely with the staff to ensure that day-to-day FORCE operations run smoothly.
Jackie has a Bachelor of Science from the University of Florida and a Master of Health Administration from the University of South Florida. She has been working in the non-profit field for over 10 years.
She resides in Wesley Chapel, Florida with her husband, Eli, and her children, Cadence, Reed and Harper.
Marisol saw her mother fight breast cancer when she was very young, only to lose her when she was 8 years old to ovarian cancer. Since then, she always feared she would one day have those same fights.
Years later, married and with two beautiful sons, she went for her routine mammogram. Given her family history, genetic counseling was suggested. It was time to face her fears and undergo genetic testing.
She tested positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation. Knowing very well the pain left behind to those you love, she decided to fight this and learn as much as possible. That is when she found FORCE, an incredible source of information with an even more incredible community of fighters, like her. She knew she was not alone in this fight.
She has since gone through her prophylactic double mastectomy and prophylactic bilateral salpingo oophorectomy. She is a previvor and proud of it. She knew it was time to give back and she is now in charge of the Helpline at FORCE. She is also involved in her Hispanic community and has participated in several conferences, both at home and beyond our borders.
Marisol resides in San Diego, California with her husband, Luis, and her two sons, Santiago and Nicolas.
Diane's family was shocked to learn their genetic test results following her aunt's ovarian cancer diagnosis in 1999 at the age of 53. When Diane discovered that her BRCA1 mutation was passed down from her father, she decided it was time to take action. She was given information about FORCE through her genetic counselor, went to local FORCE support meetings and researched options to reduce her risk. Diane made informed medical decisions and is proud to be called a previvor!
Diane became an outreach co-coordinator in Philadelphia and quickly decided that she would love to help FORCE in any other way needed. She became the Director of Volunteer Programs and a FRAT Advocate (FORCE Research Advocate Training Program).
She has a BA in Education from Kutztown University and worked for 20 years as an Early Childhood Education Center Director. Diane and her husband, Thomas, have a teenage daughter and two married sons.
As Vice President of Community Affairs & Public Policy, Lisa manages strategic partnerships and collaborations for FORCE. She also spearheads the organization?s public policy efforts by tracking key issues, such as genetic privacy and access-to-care, ensuring that the needs of the high-risk cancer community are represented. Lisa has presented testimony on key issues before the FDA, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Congress & other influential institutions. She developed the FORCE Research Advocate Training (FRAT) program, aimed at preparing consumers to become engaged in research advocacy on behalf of the hereditary cancer community and is spearheading development of a comprehensive advocacy network for FORCE. Lisa serves in leadership positions for a number of cancer and patient-focused healthcare initiatives.
A BRCA1 mutation carrier, she lives in the Washington, DC area with her husband, two teenage children and dog Penny.
Dr. Piri L. Welcsh was finishing her Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics at The Ohio State University when she read the groundbreaking research paper by Dr. Mary-Claire King describing the location of the first hereditary breast and ovarian cancer gene, BRCA1. Guided by this pioneering research, she committed herself to the study of inherited breast and ovarian cancer. Her postdoctoral project at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center was in collaboration with Mary-Claire’s groups and others to clone BRCA1. During this time, her maternal grandmother was diagnosed and died of breast cancer, while her mother was also diagnosed and is currently a breast cancer survivor.
Piri joined Mary-Claire King’s laboratory at the University of Washington in 1996 and spent the next 20 years working with her and others identifying other hereditary breast and ovarian cancer genes, as well as studying how BRCA1 and BRCA2 normally function in cells. A few years ago, her mother was diagnosed with a second primary breast cancer and her mother’s sister and her mother’s cousin were also diagnosed with breast cancer. Piri is a previvor of sorts in that she is part of a high-risk breast cancer “mystery family”-a family with a lot of breast cancer, but no known mutation in any known breast cancer gene.
Piri and her wife, Karen, live in Seattle, WA with their boy/girl twins and another son. Her family absolutely loves living and playing in the Pacific Northwest!
Rebekah has more than 13 years of experience helping families affected by cancer. Beginning her career with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Kansas City, where as Development Manager she supported blood cancer research working with local donors to help find a cure for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and improving the quality of life of patients and their families.
Most recently, Rebekah was the Development Director for the Brent Eley Foundation, which operates Brent's Place a Denver-based non-profit that provides long-term housing and support for families traveling to Denver for life-saving medical treatment. At Brent's Place, Rebekah and her team helped raise funds to ensure every family receives unlimited support, but never a bill.
Holding a B.A. in Public Relations from Northwest Missouri State University, Rebekah is also a Certified Fund Raising Executive.
With a grandmother that is a breast cancer survivor along with so many close friends and family affected by cancer, Rebekah's heart is to make a difference using her skills.
Rebekah also enjoys spending time with her family, good books and traveling with her husband, Jared.