Donor Spotlight

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My Sister: Her Legacy Carries On, by Maralee Schwartz

My sister Elise Shapira was relentless. She never gave up.  It was always, what is next?  Until, after a nearly decade battle with ovarian cancer, there was no more next. Elise, my younger and only sibling, was diagnosed with breast cancer at 40, ovarian cancer at 50. She died in 2011 at 60, and as she told us, with no regrets.

Most likely, I will not have cancer—because of her. For years, she urged me to be tested for BRCA—she and her daughter had tested positive — and for years, I delayed. I look like Daddy, I would say, you look like Mommy and Grammy (both had breast cancer). During her last summer, I agreed to be tested, and days before she died, I learned I was positive for BRCA-1.  Six weeks after her death I had my ovaries removed, and now I have an annual breast MRI in addition to an annual mammogram. Her final gift to me.

My gift to her is a FORCE endowed fund in her name. Elise connected with FORCE after she was diagnosed and learned she was positive for BRCA-1. The inspiration and support that she received from speaking with other BRCA women was transformative for Elise and for her family, who attended local Chicago meetings, as well as national conferences.  Elise’s commitment continues with her son and daughter. William ran marathons in her name to raise money for FORCE. Rachel became a genetic counselor so she can help other families facing cancer. She is active in FORCE and has been a presenter at conferences.

We receive so much gratification meeting with the couples who are able to attend the remarkable FORCE conferences because of the Elise Shapira Scholarship. They find the same support my sister did. We hug, share stories. My sister’s legacy carries forward with these couples.

Maralee Schwartz has been a donor to FORCE since 2013. She resides in Washington, D.C. She was a journalist for 30 years and a reporter and editor for the Washington Post.  Maralee currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Shorenstein Center for Press and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  Her greatest desire for FORCE is for it to be better known for its role in educating the public about hereditary cancers and offering support.

FORCE:Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered