A Mother’s Legacy: The Lynne Cohen Foundation for Ovarian Cancer Research
By Diana Price
Lynne Cohen was not a celebrity, and the foundation that now bears her name is not fueled by star power. Instead the Lynne Cohen Foundation for Ovarian Cancer Research (LCFOCR), founded in 1998 and based in Los Angeles, is inspired and funded by something much more powerful: the love of family and friends who have channeled their desire to make a difference in the lives of women. Dedicated to supporting groundbreaking research to improve the survival rates for women with ovarian cancer, LCFOCR focuses its efforts specifically on the emerging role of screening and prevention in women’s cancers.
The foundation’s mission, says Amy Cohen Epstein, Lynne’s youngest daughter and the foundation’s executive director, reflects her mother’s compassionate and philanthropic spirit. “Giving back and helping others is something that came very naturally to both my parents, especially my mother,” says Amy. “She spent most of her time and energy throughout her life focused on the needs of her friends, her family, and people in her community.” Upon her diagnosis with ovarian cancer at age 48, Amy says, Lynne directed her energy toward ovarian cancer advocacy.
“After she passed away,” Amy continues, “it was quite natural for my sisters and me to carry on her mission and try to make a positive impact in the field.” The family’s desire to honor Lynne and to carry on her work resulted in the creation of a foundation that is truly a family affair. Amy serves as president and executive director, while her sisters, Erin and Whitney, and their brother, Robby, serve on the board of directors. Their work, Amy says, is continuously guided by their desire to emulate their mother’s generosity and “to give to other women what our mom ran out of—more time.”
The decision to focus their efforts on prevention and early detection evolved, Amy says, as the sisters learned more about the disease. “Ovarian cancer is the deadliest gynecologic cancer and one of the most deadly cancers,” Amy says. “This is due to the facts that there is currently no early-detection test for ovarian cancer and it is often caught in a late stage of the disease, when the chances for survival are not high.” Progress will be made only when an earlier diagnosis is possible. “Ovarian cancer symptoms are vague and often misdiagnosed, and our goal is to work with the research community to give women more resources, information, and tools to catch the disease at an early stage. Or, better yet, come up with preventive measures that keep women safe.”
Funded by a combination of grants, individual donations, and the proceeds from several annual fundraising events, the foundation’s efforts have already been making a difference in the lives of women across the country. Since 1998 the LCFOCR has donated $5 million to support research and prevention care for women’s cancers, including the creation of five preventive care clinics at hospitals throughout the United States: the Lynne Cohen High Risk Clinic at Bellevue Hospital Center, NYU Cancer Institute; the Lynne Cohen High Risk Screening and Prevention Project for Ovarian and Breast Cancer at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas; the Lynne Cohen Preventive Care Clinic for Women’s Cancers at USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center; the Lynne Cohen Breast Cancer Preventive Care Program at NYU Cancer Institute; and the Lynne Cohen Preventive Care Program for Women’s Cancers at University of Alabama, Birmingham. In addition, in 2005 the foundation established the Lynne Cohen Consortium to collect uniform data on patients seen at any of the Lynne Cohen Preventive Care Clinics for Women’s Cancers. With centralized data readily available for researchers from any of the participating centers, this partnership facilitates cross-institutional research and paves the way for advances in research and prevention.
In addition to the foundation’s work in the area of research and prevention, the LCFOCR signature fundraising event, KICKIN’ CANCER! (www.kickincancer.com), a 5K run/walk and women’s health expo held each September in Los Angeles, emphasizes the need for awareness about the early detection and prevention of both ovarian and breast cancers. Last year’s event drew more than 3,000 participants and spectators and raised more than $270,000 to fund the foundation’s programs and research. The LCFOCR Web site (www.lynnecohenfoundation.org) also serves as a resource, providing information about warning signs, links to resources and clinical trials, and general information about the foundation’s work.
As LCFOCR has grown, so has Amy’s sense of gratitude for being entrusted with the important mission that the foundation carries out. “I have been given the opportunity to help other women—moms, daughters, sisters, cousins, aunts, friends—who have been touched by the disease make a difference through the Lynne Cohen Foundation,” Amy says. “The bravery and the courage of so many of the women we meet are truly and utterly overwhelming.”
It is the spirit of these women, and of Lynne Cohen herself, that continues to inspire the foundation’s work. “Everything we do,” Amy says, “we do in her name and with the knowledge that she is the inspiration and the drive that keeps us going. She was a woman whose presence and spirit made people’s lives better. We hope the Lynne Cohen Foundation will always do the same.”