(This article first appeared in the August 17, 2016 issue of The Independent Newspaper)
One step at a time is all it takes to change someone’s life or our own. At the twenty-first annual Ellen’s Run, held this Sunday at Parrish Memorial Hall at Southampton Hospital at 9 AM, hundreds will be running for a change.
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2015 close to 232,000 US women were newly diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and approximately 40,000 of those women will die from the disease. Statistics are now showing that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
As these numbers become harder to ignore, the Ellen’s Run 5K race raises money to support the Ellen Hermanson Breast Center at Southampton Hospital. At this family event, runners of all levels and ages are encouraged to participate. A special prize is given to the first breast cancer survivor who crosses the finish line.
Julie Ratner is Chair of Ellen’s Run and the sister of the inspiration for it all, Ellen Hermanson. In catching up with Ratner the life of Ellen was revealed.
“She was an earth lover type, interested in everything around her. She was a voracious reader with a really present, sharp mind. The conversation was always interesting.”
Ratner, six years older than Ellen, described her sister as being “a great partner in crime” who would never rat her out. Ellen was the “perfect little sister” and acted as her little mascot, the younger, but wiser and smarter one, who she went to for advice.
An ambitious woman with big aspirations, Hermanson was a journalist who took a keen interest in the Middle East and Israel during the late 70s and early 80s. Her biggest dream came true with the birth of her daughter Leora.
Leora, a Hebrew name meaning “light onto me,” was only six months old when Hermanson was diagnosed with breast cancer at the young age of 35. Due to the sickness, Leora grew up rather independently, often playing on her own with Hermanson sick much of the time.
Now at twenty-seven years old, Leora recently took the bar exam in North Carolina and is “Ellen’s finest accomplishment,” though her mother is not around to see her today. Ratner reminisced, “I can still hear Ellen say to me, ‘Could you believe how great Leora is? Am I bragging too much?’ As sick as she was, she would always bring up her daughter in discussion . . . through the pain you could feel this light in her voice.”
Hermanson’s voice is the positive memory, keeping her alive. It’s still heard by Ratner, “I hear it in my ear, that stays with me.”
After seeing her sister’s deterioration from the beginning to Hermanson’s untimely end, Ratner talks with women in the community aiming to give them advice that is helpful based on what she’d recommend for herself or her own daughters.
“I recommend the 3D mammogram. It’s more radiation, but it’s more accurate . . . Always get a second opinion. Find and learn as much as you can about your disease. You want to be a partner with your doctor to work with yourself.”
Proper education and support are crucial to the process of any disease because in the beginning it’s hard to be sure what the exact disease may be. Staying positive is also important to personal wellbeing.
To the women who have reached the final lap in their course of the disease, Ratner describes the end stages as humbling. Most situations have the capability of change, but accepting loss is final. “Spend time, hold that space, listen. It’s about the person dying . . . Be present and be attentive.” She emphasized being aware in the moment and making the most of the time that’s left. In quoting her sister, “[Ellen said to me] as close as we are you don’t get it. You haven’t walked in these shoes.”
For the patients, caregivers, or loved ones seeking emotional support there is Ellen’s Well. Established in May of 2000, Ellen’s Well provides psychosocial support for breast cancer survivors on the East End. Edyle O’Brian, an oncological social worker for over twenty years, facilitates these support groups. O’Brian is both wise and caring; a conversation with her can be healing.
Ellen’s Run grows bigger every year, and this year’s attendance is expected to reach a thousand or more. Ratner notes that one woman recently stopped her and said “I have a t-shirt from every year at your race.” This was a heartfelt moment and reminder of how supportive the East End community is.
“It’s a great race with a lot of spirit and energy. We’re not just surviving but thriving,” she said.
The run is a fast course in the morning before the day’s heat kicks in. People often run for a good time. Plus, there’s no traffic!
Ellen’s Run is a way to honor and remember loved ones. Ratner encourages attendance. “We keep our money here. We believe in this community. We’re part of it and we are here to serve it.” Each step taken is a step in the right direction.