As a mother of a one month old daughter receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, Ellen Hermanson probably never dreamed her name would one day be synonymous with state of the art care for that disease. But, this Sunday, when “runners, walkers, and cheerleaders” converge at 9 a.m. at Southampton Hospital for the 19th Annual Ellen’s Run, there will be no doubt as to her legacy.
From an idea thrown out at the kitchen table of her mourning sister, Julie Ratner 20 years ago, Ellen’s Run created the Ellen P. Hermanson Foundation, Ellen’s Well, and the Ellen Hermanson Breast Health Center at Southampton Hospital.
Julie had lost her younger sister, then her father, and ended her marriage, all within twelve months. “After this difficult year, I was really sad without Ellen,” Ratner told us. “She had been my rock, and she wasn’t there.”
“You’re a runner,” a friend said to her. “Let’s start a run.”
Working on that new project Ratner remembers, “It was almost as if Ellen came back to save my life. I had a reason to wake up in the morning, a reason to focus.” Julie also had something to prove. “There were people who thought being a runner didn’t mean I could organize a run and it wouldn’t happen, or at best, after expenses, we’d be lucky to net $1,000. Don’t tell me I can’t do something! I was off and running.”
That first Run raised more than $62,000. By its fourth year, Ellen’s Run had become the largest race in the Hamptons and was still growing.
In the beginning, Ratner recalls, “I got up every day because I was going to make this event happen and do something to honor Ellen.” In the six years she fought her own battle, Ellen also had become a powerful voice to advocate for Breast Cancer education and awareness. Julie would continue that work. “But, the most important thing to me was that her daughter, who was only six years old when she died, would never say to me, I don’t remember my mother.”
Since inception, the Foundation has awarded $3.2 million in grants. “We do not focus on research,” Ratner says. “We have a three-part mission statement that keeps us on track.” Their focus has three prongs: Educational outreach about the importance of mammography to women who are medically underserved, psycho-social support to breast cancer survivors and families, and pain management.
In the past ten years, the foundation has focused its efforts in the Hamptons because of the disproportionate amount of Breast Cancer deaths in Long Island. They established three types of support groups: for those newly diagnosed with breast cancer, those with the metastatic disease and a wellness group for women who have completed their treatments.
They started working with the Southampton Hospital, making strategic grants for important treatment equipment. That led the American College of Radiology to name it a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence. The hospital opened the Ellen Hermanson Breast Health Center, in 2009.
Ellen’s Run is a family event. Register online at www.ellensrun.org in advance or before the race from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, August 17, 2014.