Men unite to cure women’s cancers

For most people, getting involved with a cause means thinking about what type of organization they’d like to support. But this is a story about what happens when a cause selects you – taps you on the shoulder and asks you to engage in battle.

It began in 1998 when my wife Amy, then 40, was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer. Our two daughters were 5 years and 15 months old. Amy battled for 15 months, and died in 1999. Like many spouses of women who die of cancer too young, my next few years were all about balancing the family boat.

Fast forward to three years later, when I met my current wife, Ruth. We married in 2005 and Ruth adopted my daughters.

Just one year later, Ruth’s mother, Mildred Moorman, was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer and was treated at Dana-Farber by Dr. Ursula Matulonis. (She died earlier this year.) I had the opportunity to share our family’s story at a meeting of the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers Executive Council at Dana-Farber.

Always a strong supporter of cancer research, I wanted to do more; to find people like me.

I began talking to men and found many similar stories – wives who died too young, husbands left behind, sisters and mothers struggling with breast and ovarian cancers. And we all wanted to do something to make a difference.

Within a year, we established a partnership with the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center and called ourselves the Men’s Collaborative to Cure Women’s Cancers, an unprecedented partnership that gives men a way to support cutting-edge research in breast and gynecologic cancers throughout the Dana-Farber and Harvard medical communities.

The battle to retain young researchers has become global, and we need to make sure top young talent gets recruited and stays within the Boston Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center network. We want to encourage collaboration across different institutions and be a local source of funding.

We took a first major step this month, when we announced a series of grants for innovative research. We’re supporting efforts exploring new treatments for breast and ovarian cancers led by Dr. Eric Winer, Dr. Ursula Matulonis, and Dr. James Bradner of Dana-Farber, as well as several others from partner institutions.

The Men’s Collaborative is the first group of its kind, and it gives our members the opportunity to learn and decide how research dollars are allocated. It’s also a way to connect with other men who have experienced the pain that too many of us share.

Sometimes, the cause just picks you.

Sheldon Simon is co-chair of the Men’s Collaborative to Cure Women’s Cancers. The group is currently planning its next fundraiser, The 2nd Annual Women’s Cancers Classic.