Making a real difference

Since Maine Cancer Foundation’s first Tri for a Cure four years ago, thousands of women have participated, and more than $1 million has been raised from that one event alone.

Every single cent has stayed in Maine.

Raising money for cancer research and education and keeping it in Maine has been the foundation’s mission since its beginnings in 1976, as the Maine Cancer Research and Education Foundation. The name was shortened to Maine Cancer Foundation in 2001.

The foundation was established by the late Portland businessman Harmon Hugo, in honor of his wife Mary, who died of breast cancer. Her oncologist, Dr. Ronald Carroll, was involved from the start.

“For several years,” says Carroll, “we didn’t get a lot of contributions and were living a scanty existence. It was really touch and go and we almost went away.”

During that time, the foundation was the primary underwriter of Discovery Weekend, a weekend retreat that provided emotional and spiritual support for thousands of cancer patients and their loved ones for nearly three decades.

A major turning point came in the 1980s with the advent of the genome project and the discovery and sequencing of the BRAC1 gene, says Carroll.

“For the first time, we had a measurable test for breast cancer. We tied that finding to our mission and developed some brochures, which we distributed to lawyers,” he said.

Shortly after, the foundation received a $600,000 estate donation, which, Carroll says, “consolidated and assured its continuance.”

From that moment on, things really started to move. The Maine Cancer Foundation was able to fund several educational programs, and also began sponsoring some major fundraisers.

In the 2010-2011 fiscal year, Maine Cancer Foundation awarded 10 grants totaling $830,330 to further cancer research in Maine, and $162,989 in 22 grants for education and patient support.

“People are so generous,” says Tara Hill, executive director. “It’s amazing. This growth will enable us to continue our support of research while expanding our impact on education and patient services. We will be able to work with groups across the state on the cancer issues and needs that impact Mainers. It’s possible for us to make a real difference in the state.”

The difference that Maine Cancer Foundation has already made is astonishing when you look at the breadth of projects it has been able to fund in the past 35 years.

Scholarships totaling almost $20,000 allowed 26 oncology nurses representing 11 facilities from Portland to Belfast to Bangor to Lewiston to attend the annual Oncology Nurse Society Congress in Boston earlier this year.

Kelly Martin, the foundation’s office manager and database administrator, says they received many notes of gratitude, such as this from Michelle Whitcomb and Marilyn Knowlton at Waldo County Hospital’s Oncology Clinic in Belfast: “You have provided us with the opportunity to learn more, share our education with staff and patients and network with other RNs, for which we are very grateful.”

For several years, the foundation has provided funding for the Maine Buddy Program, which matches a person with cancer to a trained volunteer or buddy, based on the type of cancer, age and geographic location.

Leslie Roberts, who was diagnosed with endometrial cancer four years ago, is a volunteer buddy at the Cancer Community Center in South Portland.

“The Maine Buddy Program was a great comfort to me when I was diagnosed four years ago,” she sayd. “Now, as a buddy, I find it very rewarding to reassure other women who are going through cancer treatment.”

Maine’s first cancer genetics program at the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine was established with support from the Maine Cancer Foundation, and several important research projects were moved along to the national level because of foundation funding. Maine Cancer Foundation provides one-year grants so that both new and seasoned researchers can test new ideas and move research along to leverage larger, future grants.

Robert Friesel, director of the Center for Molecular Medicine at the Maine Medical Center Cancer Research Institute, says because of MCF funding, Maine scientists have been able to “identify new targets for diagnostics and therapeutics, which although in the early stages, hold much promise.

“One of our researchers identified a protein that may be an additional diagnostic marker for breast cancer and another is looking at potentially therapeutic antibodies that may inhibit melanoma cancer growth. Maine Cancer Foundation provided the seed money that helped get the research started. Without it, a lot of Maine projects would not get done,” he said.

Friesel is writing a National Institutes of Health grant to further cancer research that he was able to get started in 2007 with a Maine Cancer Foundation grant.

“Maine Cancer Foundation funding for meritorious research has really evolved in the past few years,” he says. “Everyone who has helped raise money for MCF has done a fantastic job, especially in these tough economic times, and I think Maine can expect more good things in the future. Having the Maine Cancer Foundation is wonderful for scientists and patients.”

Maine Cancer Foundation fundraisers include:

Tri for a Cure

Mary’s Walk & Kerrymen Pub 5K

Cure Breast Cancer for ME Luncheon

Pink Tulip Project

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