Annual Awards


Spirit of Empowerment Awards 2020

Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE) presents its Spirit of Empowerment awards to recognize the contributions of individuals and organizations that help us educate and support the hereditary cancer community. The awards ceremony typically takes place during a special luncheon at the Joining FORCEs Against Hereditary Cancer Conference. While the June 2020 conference has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we created this webpage to acknowledge the selfless efforts of our 2020 awardees. Please join us in showing appreciation for their ongoing commitment to bettering the lives of people affected by hereditary cancer.


Individual Commitment: Julie Klein

After losing her father to colon cancer when she was 12, Julie’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer five years later. She remembers telling her mother not to worry. They caught it early. Everything will be fine. Her mother survived breast cancer, as did her mother’s identical twin, and they both lived many more years. Yet, in the back of Julie’s mind, she feared that one day she, too, would be diagnosed with cancer.  

In 2011, Julie’s radiologist recommended genetic testing. Wasting no time, she met with a genetic counselor and tested positive for a BRCA1 genetic mutation. Without the knowledge of her mutation, Julie’s life may have taken a different path.

And so began Julie’s BRCA journey and the start of a new meaning to her life. Knowing no one who had this genetic mutation, she was amazed to learn about FORCE and reached out to volunteer. She felt a passion to help others. For the past eight years, Julie has helped countless people as a Helpline volunteer, Peer Navigator, proofreader, and fundraiser for FORCE. 

Awardee Remarks

Individual Commitment: Maralee Schwartz

Maralee’s younger sister Elise was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 and ovarian cancer at age 50, fighting a decade-long battle until she died in 2011. For years, Elise urged Maralee to be tested for the familial BRCA mutation—and for years, Maralee delayed. Finally agreeing to be tested, days before Elise died Maralee learned that she too was positive for a BRCA1 mutation. 

Elise connected with FORCE after she was diagnosed and learned that she was BRCA1 positive. The inspiration and support that she received from FORCE was transformative for Elise and her family, who attended local Chicago meetings, as well as national conferences. Knowledge of her BRCA mutation was Elise’s final gift to Maralee.  Maralee’s gift to her sister is the Elise Shapira Memorial Fund, a FORCE endowed fund that provides scholarship dollars to FORCE conference attendees and supports the FORCE mission.

Maralee Schwartz has been a FORCE donor since 2013. Her greatest desire for FORCE is for the organization to be better known for its role in educating the public about hereditary cancers and offering support.

Awardee Remarks

Community Empowerment: Rebecca Sutphen, MD

Dr. Rebecca Sutphen is a Professor of Genetics, University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine, Tampa, FL and Chief Medical Officer of InformedDNA. Dr. Sutphen received her medical degree from Temple University, where she was elected to the National Honor Medical Society Alpha Omega Alpha. She is board certified by the American Board of Medical Genetics as a Clinical Geneticist as well as a Molecular Geneticist. 

Sutphen has been an NIH-funded researcher for more than a decade. Her research involves identification and management of hereditary cancer risk, strategies for early detection and prevention of cancer, and ways to increase consumer access to genetics experts as well as involve consumers in the entire research process. Dr. Sutphen serves as Co-Principal Investigator leading the ABOUT Network focused on hereditary cancer as part of the National Clinical Research Network PCORnet. A member of the FORCE Medical Advisory Board and Board of Directors, she is also co-author of the book, Confronting Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer along with Kathy Steligo and Dr. Sue Friedman. She is survivor of premenopausal breast cancer and melanoma.

Awardee Remarks

Corporate Commitment: TELETIES

TELETIES are known as the strong-grip, no-rip hair tie that gives back. TELETIES are sleek, stylish, colorful and fun, but they are not your average hair tie. They double as a fashionable (and stackable) bracelet that is water-resistant, and stretches to fit your needs. TELETIES provide a strong hold, yet gentle grip that causes less hair damage and fewer headaches. With their unique spiral design, they leave less of a crease compared to traditional ties.

With every TELETIES purchase, a donation is made to FORCE to improve the lives of those facing hereditary cancer. It is important to TELETIES that those who need resources and education have what they need to make informed decisions about hereditary cancer. This is proof of their mission to uphold a resilient product while giving back to the community at the same time.

Awardee Remarks

Research: Olufunmilayo Olopade, MD, FACP

A medical oncologist and cancer genetics expert, Dr. Olopade’s pioneering work led to wide adoption of genetic testing for inherited cancers. She was involved in mapping, cloning and characterization of inherited cancer genes for breast and ovarian cancers, and melanoma. Her work has had direct impact on cancer risk stratification and prevention.

Based on findings from her Southside of Chicago practice, Olopade’s laboratory was the first to publish on African American families with BRCA1/2 mutations and extended testing to ethnically diverse populations. Her research has had a profound impact as she works to improve screening and treatment for breast cancer so that every woman has a chance to survive and thrive. 

Dr. Olopade is Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and Director, Center for Global Health. A Fellow of professional academies and societies, she has received many honors and awards. Her groundbreaking work in breast cancer among women of African ancestry earned her a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedom from Want Medal, Gregory Mendel Medal, Order of Lincoln award and Officer of the Order of the Niger award.

2016 Recipients 

  • Individual Commitment: Dave and Jessie Bushman 
  • Research: Susan Domchek, MD
  • Research: Mary-Claire King, PhD

2016 Recipients 

  • Advocacy: National Society of Genetic Counselors
  • Media: Alan Blassberg, Director,  “Pink & Blue: Colors of Hereditary Cancer” 
  • Individual Commitment: Brandi Forbes
  • Individual Commitment: Linee Zajic 
  • Individual Commitment: Jen and Glenn Cole
  • Research: Dr. Judy Garber, Director of the Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
  • Corporate Commitment: BFFL Co. (Best Friends for Life) 

2015 Recipients

  • Research: Dr. Alan Ashworth
  • Individual Commitment: Tara Freundlich
  • Advocacy: Ovarian Cancer National Alliance
  • Advocacy: Amy Cohen Epstein
  • Advocacy: Lisa Cohen

2014 Recipients

  • Arts & Media: Stacey Sager
  • Arts & Media: Kara DioGuardi
  • Arts & Media: Annie Parker
  • Individual Commitment: Kate Downey Berges
  • Indivdual Commitment: Karen Hurley, PhD
  • Corporate Committment: Sisco + Berluti
  • Research: Mark H. Greene, MD

2012 Recipients

  • Advocacy: Sharon Terry, President and CEO of the Genetic Alliance
  • Advocacy: American Civil Liberties Union organized the successful challenge of Myriad's gene patents.
  • Arts & Media: Dina Roth Port, award-winning freelance writer, journalist, and author.
  • Arts & Media: Joi Morris, author of Positive Results.
  • Individual Commitment: The Byer Family
  • Research: Steven Narod, MD, Tier I Canada Research Chair in Breast Cancer and a senior scientist at Women's College Research Institute.

2011 Recipients

  • Arts & Media: Kathy Steligo, author of the Breast Reconstruction Guidebook, and editor of Joining FORCEs newsletter.
  • Advocacy: Komen for the Cure, for the impact of their advocacy work on the lives of people facing hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
  • Advocacy: Ellen Matloff, MS, genetic counselor and director of Yale Cancer Center Genetic Counseling Program and plaintiff in the ACLU patent lawsuit.
  • Corporate Commitment: Tiny Little T Shirt Company
  • Individual Commitment: Dara & Molly Marias & Myron Caplan, The Butterfly Project
  • Research: Dr. Francis Collins

2010 Recipients

The inaugural Spirit of Empowerment awards were presented at the 5th Annual Joining FORCEs Conference in Orlando, FL. Recipients for the inaugural award were:

  • Arts & Media: Joanna Rudnick, Producer & Director, In the Family
  • Research:  Timothy R. Rebbeck, Ph.D., Cancer Center Genetics, Epidemiology and Risk Reduction Program at Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia, PA
  • Advocacy: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz
  • Corporate Commitment: Enell, Inc.
  • Individual Commitment: Michael Sosin

FORCE:Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered