In November of 1997, ovarian cancer survivor Bonnie Donihi heard about a group gathering in New York to form a national ovarian cancer organization. With the same persistence she used in fighting cancer, Bonnie ultimately “talked [her] way into the meeting” and went on to become a founding member of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. Looking back, Bonnie now compares those early efforts to motherhood: “It’s a bit like giving birth to a baby; watching it grow and seeing it turn into an important women’s health advocate.”
Returning home after that initial organizational meeting, Bonnie clearly understood the value of creating a similar group on the local level. “I knew a handful of ovarian cancer survivors in Florida,” Bonnie recalls, “So I brought them together and we decided then and there to create a Partner Member.” That meeting was the genesis of what would become the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Florida (OCAF).
In the beginning OCAF’s mission was dedicated to advocacy, awareness and education. “We wanted to spread the word and educate women in the state of Florida,” recalls Bonnie. The group’s first sponsored public event was a candlelight vigil held in 1998, which drew 500 people. Based upon that initial response, Bonnie knew she was headed in the right direction and since then has never looked back. Over the next few years, interest and programs expanded; in 2004 OCAF registered as a nonprofit organization.
Today OCAF’s focus on advocacy, awareness and education is evident in the variety of activities, events and outreach programs the group offers. Of note is last year’s collaboration on the passage of first-of-its-kind legislation supporting ovarian cancer education and awareness in the state of Florida. The law was spearheaded by a coalition of ovarian cancer groups from throughout the state called FOCAS, which meets twice a year to share best practices and programs. The group, including OCAF, is now directing its attention towards getting educational materials in schools to help educate younger populations.
Each September, National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, OCAF collaborates with community partners like M. D. Anderson Cancer Center Orlando and Florida Hospital Cancer Institute to provide interactive seminars with top-level medical professionals regarding the latest research and practices for gynecologic cancers.
OCAF is especially proud of their Nurses Education Initiative (NEI), which was implemented eight years ago. The program started as a grant to the University of Central Florida to provide nursing students and nurse practitioners with a greater understanding of ovarian cancer. Each semester survivors are brought together with students to help sensitize them to work with patients in a real-world setting. “Our goal is to make an early impact so when entering into practice medical professionals keep ovarian cancer on their radar for early detection,” explains Bonnie.
Two of OCAF’s signature annual events will take place this spring. This year’s 11th Annual Teal Magnolia Luncheon in April will have 550 guests enjoying a silent auction, gourmet meal, entertainment and awards. On Mother’s Day, OCAF will host their 4th Annual Teal Ribbon Run/Walk. The proceeds from these events help raise funds to support OCAF’s activities as well as research grants. OCAF is extremely proud of the fact that they have given more than $100,000 to local institutions conducting research on ovarian cancer. “It’s just the beginning,” promises Bonnie.
This three-time ovarian cancer survivor and the local non-profit she helped create have come a long way since that initial meeting with fellow survivors around her kitchen table years ago. As a founding mother of both the national Alliance and OCAF, Bonnie sees clear benefits in being a Partner Member: “We all have the same goals and that is to save the lives of more women and girls.” That spirit of collaboration has kept Partner Member program going—and growing—since the founding of the Alliance in 1997.