Heather Weeks loved a good party.
That’s why her mom, Frieda Weeks, thinks she would have appreciated Party for a Cure, the Jan. 29 fundraiser at Meghan MacMurphy’s designed to raise awareness for ovarian cancer.
“Heather loved music and dancing and a good party,” Frieda Weeks said. “I think she would love it. Heather’s mission in life was to tell women about ovarian cancer and the color teal, which is the awareness color for ovarian cancer. She would be 100 percent for any event that did that.”
On June 10, 2008, Heather was diagnosed with an aggressive form of colon cancer. Though she had surgery to remove a tumor on July 1, cancer cells had already spread to her liver and bone marrow. After extensive chemotherapy, Heather, a 2002 Liverpool High School graduate, passed away on Nov. 14, 2008.
In an effort to carry on her legacy, Heather’s family founded Hope for Heather in May of 2009. The foundation seeks to raise money and awareness for ovarian cancer, which Heather did in her final job as assistant to Ovarian Cancer Research Fund CEO Elizabeth Howard.
“She found a new passion and decided to change careers,” Frieda Weeks said. “She felt this was an area where she could make a difference. We felt that she would want us to carry on what she felt was important.”
Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecological cancers in the United States and the fifth leading cause of cancer death among American women. Each year, approximately 20,000 American women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and about 15,000 women die of the disease. In 2008, it is estimated that 21,650 women in the United States will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 15,520 women will die from the disease.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are very vague, making it difficult to diagnose. Only 19 percent of ovarian cancers are caught before cancer has spread beyond the ovary to the pelvic region. When it is detected and treated early, the five-year survival rate is greater than 92 percent.
But early detection is tough; that’s why Weeks said events like Party for a Cure are so important.
“We hope that, for the community, we are able to educate women about ovarian cancer,” she said. “There is no diagnostic test. The symptoms are very vague and often indicate other conditions; it is misdiagnosed. We hope to bring people out for an afternoon of music, food and fun, but the awareness of the disease and what we do will be present through everything. When the day is done, we hope women leave with life-saving information in their hands and that they become proactive in helping us spread the word about ovarian cancer.”
This is the third annual Party for a Cure. The event was started in 2010 by local musician Don Martell while his wife, Nancy, was battling Stage IV ovarian cancer.
“He thought it would be a great honor for Nancy and a way to help Hope for Heather, and to get the word out about ovarian cancer,” Weeks said. “Nancy passed away three months after our first event, and we keep it going.”
Martell said his wife went to her doctor multiple times with the same symptoms before she was finally diagnosed.
“Nancy went to her gynecologist for three years complaining about bloating, feeling full, constipation, all the true signs of ovarian cancer, only to be told she was fine,” he said. “If she had only known the symptoms were related to ovarian cancer and insisted on a CA125 blood test or a sonogram, she would be here today.”
Martell said he came up with the idea for a party initially as a way to get entertainers and health care professionals under one roof.
“At our first Party for a Cure, we had bands in one room and health care booths set up in another room,” he said. “It went great. I had so much support from my fellow musicians and the attending public that we had to make it an annual event.
This year’s event will take place from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at Meghan MacMurphy’s on Route 57 in Liverpool. A $15 donation at the door gets you access to snacks and soda as well as music from Full Circle Band, Todd Hobin and Doug Moncrief, Lisa Lee Band featuring Lisa Henderson, Dennis Veator, and Dan Elliot and the Monterays. There’s also a cash bar. All money goes to Hope for Heather to fund their awareness programs, such as their information booth at the New York State Fair, their Teal Ribbon Run and Walk and comfort baskets for cancer patients.
Both Weeks and Martell articulated a desire to make people as aware of ovarian cancer as they are of breast cancer.
“I wanted to make ovarian cancer as talked about as breast cancer,” Martell said. “Men and women both talk about breast cancer, but never ovarian cancer. This event is just one way I can tell others about the warning signs so that no one has to go through what my wife had to endure.”
Weeks expressed gratitude to Meghan MacMurphy’s, the participating musicians and the community as a whole for their support.
“This is a true community effort,” she said. “We fight in memory of our daughter so that no one else will have to lose a daughter, a sister, a mom, a wife.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.