The Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance (COCA) was founded in June 2005 by a group of women with ovarian cancer who wanted to support one another and raise awareness of the symptoms of their disease. In the words of Pep Torres, the organization’s executive director, “They put their chemo brains together and they did it.”
Advice from the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance has been instrumental as COCA has grown over the past six years. As the head of a Partner Member in neighboring Arizona, board president Annette Leal Mattern has shared her experiences starting a local nonprofit. “It’s like a sisterhood,” notes Pep. “Talking with someone who has been there is better than any link or report I could read.”
COCA board president Mary Phillips concurs: “We have been energized every year by the great conferences the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance holds, and we’ve learned about and met so many members of the ovarian cancer community: researchers, doctors, advocates, survivors and the many others who support us. Most importantly, OCNA has made us at COCA a proud part of this community.”
Providing support to women with ovarian cancer was one of COCA’s founding goals, and it remains a critical part of the organization’s work. COCA now hosts five support groups in the Denver area, as well as a tele-conference support group for women who cannot attend an in-person meeting. The call-in support is helpful both to women who are too sick to leave home and to the many women from all parts of Colorado and from neighboring states who travel to Denver or Grand Junction for cancer treatment. Additional groups for young women and caregivers are in the works, so that COCA can support everyone in Colorado who is affected by ovarian cancer.
In addition to support services, COCA participates in the Survivors Teaching Students: Saving Women’s Lives® program, which COCA hopes to expand to include nursing programs in the next year. A grant to medical students who are working with COCA is helping to make better use of survivors’ stories with the medical community. “Stories are so powerful when you hear them,” notes Pep. “They touch people’s spirits so they want to get involved with this organization.”
As COCA has grown, the group has added more events and initiatives. Last year, at the urging of Jodi Brammeier, a local woman with ovarian cancer, COCA launched a fundraising race to fight ovarian cancer. The inaugural event raised enough money to triple COCA’s budget. The second Jodi’s Race for Awareness is scheduled for Saturday, June 4, and is on pace to exceed last year’s numbers for both participants and dollars raised.
Pep tries to embrace the word “alliance” in COCA’s name, and has focused on getting other ovarian cancer groups in Colorado involved with events like Jodi’s Race. “It’s a beautiful event where everyone can see that we’re working together,” she says.
COCA continues to strengthen its bonds with the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. “We’ve always been a strong and proud Partner Member,” says Pep. “We’re far away at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, but we use the national office’s website and communications all the time.” A contingent from COCA will attend the Annual Conference in Washington, DC, next month—another opportunity to strengthen the relationship between local and national groups.