The Ellen Hermanson Foundation's Julie Ratner shares the inspiring story behind the breast cancer charity she launched in her sister's honor.
Participants in last year’s Ellen’s Run, sponsored by the Ellen Hermanson Foundation.
I was one of three daughters: My sister, Emily, is two years older than I, while Ellen was almost six years younger. Ellen was a funny, quirky, and smart child. She was an adoring younger sister, and in her eyes I knew everything and could do no wrong. As we grew up, however, the roles changed. In high school and college, Ellen’s brilliance, sensitivity, intuitiveness, and talent as a writer emerged. My sister cared deeply about her world and her environment, and grappled with the issues of the day.
Ellen married Hugo Moreno in 1985, and in August 1988 their daughter Leora was born. Life couldn’t have been more perfect for Ellen; she was living her dream until that following February. A young, nursing mother, Ellen was having problems with one of her breasts. Doctors assured her everything was normal, but the problem did not go away, so Ellen had a biopsy. I waited for her call to tell me everything was all right, but that call never came. Finally I called her. In an almost inaudible voice, Ellen said, “I have breast cancer.” At that moment, life for my family changed forever.
Being a family of doers, we sprang into action, getting names of doctors and oncologists. Ellen had a modified radical mastectomy. Thinking that breast cancer doesn’t happen to a young mother with a 6-month-old baby, we waited anxiously for the pathology report. The results were shattering: 20 positive nodes out of 20 nodes. As a trained journalist, Ellen used her well-tuned analytical skills to research her disease and became knowledgeable about treatments and clinical trials, while her oncologist, Dr. Larry Norton, mapped out a strategy to annihilate the cancer in her body.
Ellen was a powerful voice for women with breast cancer, and she devoted herself to advocacy. She fought valiantly for six years before losing her battle. In that time, Ellen taught me about caring, compassion, education, and the importance of family support. She also exposed the disparity between medical services accessible to women like her and those who cannot afford proper care.
After Ellen died, I needed to continue the work she started and make sure that Leora would always remember her mother. With that, Emily and I started Ellen’s Run in 1996, and we established The Ellen Hermanson Foundation the following year to ensure that medically underserved women would have the same access to care and support that was given to Ellen.
Since 1996 the Foundation has changed the medical landscape of the East End. Through strategic grants, there is now The Ellen Hermanson Breast Center at Southampton Hospital—the only facility of its kind on the South Fork—and Ellen’s Well, a program providing free psychosocial support to breast cancer survivors and their families. To continue to fund our work, we will sponsor this month’s Summer Solstice honoring Robert Chaloner, president and CEO of Southampton Hospital, and philanthropist Jean Shafiroff as well as the annual Ellen’s Run on Sunday, August 17, at Southampton Hospital.