Nonprofit Spotlight: Alliance tackles patient care with humor and compassion

Ovarian cancer is often diagnosed in late stages, which worsens one’s prognosis

Woman in cape
Courtesy of Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Oregon and Southwest Washington

The Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Oregon and Southwest Washington (OCAOSW) was formed in Vancouver in 2005 by two Dianes on a mission: to educate doctors and health care providers about the signs of ovarian cancer and to support those women unfortunate enough to have the diagnosis.

“I call us the sisterhood that nobody chose to belong to,” said co-founding member Diane Radar O’Connor, a former teacher and high school counselor who was herself diagnosed in 2002 and met Diane Elizondo shortly thereafter.

The organization’s programming is significant and meaningful on many levels.

Survivors Teaching Students

STS is an international program run through the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance (OCRA). Locally, ovarian cancer survivors speak to all third-year medical students at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) during their ob/gyn rotation. Ovarian cancer survivors also present their stories of diagnosis and treatment to nursing, nurse practitioner, physician assistant and pharmacy students and to students at the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland.

By Your Side Kits

In 2016, OCAOSW started distributing chemo care kits to all women in Oregon and SW Washington who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer or a recurrence and are entering chemotherapy treatment. The kits include a teal tote that is filled with items like a teal fleece blanket, an ovarian cancer resource guide, a water bottle and a notebook. The bags are assembled by volunteers and distributed to chemotherapy centers at Compass Oncology, Legacy Health, OHSU, Willamette Valley Cancer Institute, Kaiser Permanente and clinics across Oregon.

Here4You Financial Assistance Program

The Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Oregon and SW Washington provides grants to a number of qualified applicants who are in current treatment for ovarian cancer, or within two months of finishing treatment. The grants help with expenses like rent, mortgage, medical insurance premiums, transportation, utilities and/or medical bills.

Grantees could be eligible for up to $3,000 in general support, $500 for costs associated with seeing a gynecological oncologist, or $500 towards transportation costs related to participation in an out-out-of-town clinical trial.

In addition, the organization spends time advocating on Capitol Hill every year, running local support groups and operating a toll-free support line. 

A recent initiative, Trust Your Gut, is an awareness campaign that positions survivors as their superheroes of their own stories and encourages women to push for diagnosis and treatment if they suspect ovarian cancer, which is notoriously diagnosed in late stages, which worsens one’s prognosis.

“It’s like ‘if you see something, say something’,” said Radar O’Connor.

In its 25th year, OCAOSW has added a full-time executive director, Zoya Kumar. And tax attorney Karey Schoenfeld has been there from the very beginning, having set up the organization’s initial status as an in-kind donation, and now for the last three years, acting as its treasurer.

“We just really try to use our dollars as wisely as we can to really try to educate others,” said Schoenfeld, who said she is one of the only volunteers she knows that has not been personally affected by ovarian cancer. She has also served on the boards of other local nonprofits, such as FISH and the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington. “I guess I feel we all need to give back to the community,” she said. “We need to help those that need a little bit of assistance.”

O-Vary Funny!

Dinner, dessert, silent auction and comedy by Katie Nguyen.

WHEN: Sept. 20, 2019, 6 to 10 p.m.

WHERE: DoubleTree Hotel, 1000 NE Multnomah St., in Portland

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