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Racing to Run Ovarian Cancer Out of Town

April 19, 2007 By:
Sally Friedman, JE Feature
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Robin Cohen (left) and Adriana D'Alessandro Way formed the organization in memory of Sandy Rollman
Ordinarily, the relationship between a patient and a nurse is medically vital -- but finite. Ordinarily, it exists while the patient is hospitalized and in need.

But Robin Cohen is no ordinary nurse, and her patient, the late Sandy Rollman, was no average patient. The bond that developed between these two women was nothing short of extraordinary, and its lasting legacy is the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation, Inc., a pioneering nonprofit organization in the battle against ovarian cancer, a devastating disease that is too often a killer.

Cohen, a resident of Broomall, first met Rollman when she was admitted to Lankenau Hospital in late 1999 with advanced ovarian cancer. Symptoms that should have sounded an alarm had been overlooked for two years, as is so often the case with this disease.

"Sandy was so young and so alive that we instantly became friends," recalled Cohen, who was working in the gynecologic oncology section of the hospital in radiation oncology. "Because Sandy rarely went home again, we spent endless hours together during her treatment."

Cohen is no cockeyed optimist, especially because of her work with ovarian-cancer patients. "But I honestly thought Sandy was going to make it," she said. "I guess I wanted to believe that she would. I was also a good sounding board for her -- she felt that she could confide in me despite having a wonderful outside support network."

But about two weeks before Rollman succumbed to her disease, which had unfortunately been discovered in an advanced stage, it was clear that Cohen's fervent wish was not to be.

"We understood each other very well," said the nurse, "and we both knew what was happening."

Cohen is presumably trained to deal with loss, but the death of this vibrant young patient at 33 in May 2000 left her feeling devastated. Cohen felt the need to do something meaningful -- something that would lead to progress in the battle against this marauder. Sandy's sister, Adriana D'Alessandro Way, felt similarly.

And thus was born the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation in December 2000. A labor of love for both women -- but a labor nonetheless -- the foundation has already made inroads in the battle against ovarian cancer. The urgency was even more deeply felt when Sandy and Adriana's mother died two months ago of the same disease.

The vital mission of the foundation is to increase awareness of a disease that whispers, seldom shouts, and occurs in 1 out of 57 women of all ages. "About 75 to 80 percent of women are not diagnosed until the disease has reached an advanced stage," said Cohen of the disease the American Cancer Society identifies as the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers. "We need to make all women aware of the symptoms of this disease."

The goals of the Rollman Foundation are lofty, and don't stop there. Raising funds for the Family Risk-Assessment Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center and for Fox Chase's No. 1 ovarian-cancer researcher are additional urgent missions. Another goal is to educate students at area medical schools so that they are vigilant from the start.

The passage of Johanna's Law, a bill that authorizes a national gynecologic-cancer early-detection-and-awareness campaign aimed at women and their doctors, has been a mission accomplished. The foundation avidly supported the bill, which was passed late last year.

"There is such a need for information about symptoms and for research into a cure," said Cohen. "This disease is a killer, and we need to fight back."

For more information, call 1-877-730-1100 or go to: www. sandyovarian.org.

Symptoms: What Causes Some Concern
· Pressure or abdominal bloating;
· Nausea, indigestion, constipation, changes in bowel or bladder that are constant and progressive;
· Frequent or urgent urination;
· Abnormal bleeding, pain during intercourse; · Unusual fatigue, backaches.
If any symptoms last more than two to three weeks, women are advised to get a vaginal/rectal examination, a CA-125 blood test and a transvaginal sonogram.


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