A Family That Gives Back

OCSA first met Grace Neri at our inaugural Dog Walk in 2010. As a member of Girl Scout Troop 4058, their task as the Honor Guard was to present the flag of the United States of America that signaled the singing of the National Anthem. She has participated every year. In the last 2 years, in addition to supporting the Fox Valley community, Neri Landscape has supported our golf outings and our Dog walks. It is our great pleasure to introduce you to George (Geno), Angela, Grace, Gus and Gia…a family that gives back!

Neri Family 1

OCSA:  Your daughter Grace has participated in every Dog Walk starting in September of 2010.  Can you tell us about her involvement with the OCSA Team?
Grace and her Girl Scout Troop have volunteered for the OCSA Dog Walk for the past 5 years.  It is a great event to support OCSA and meet new people!  She loves seeing all the dogs and people and has a wonderful time while supporting such an important cause. Grace loves giving back to the community we live in and getting the message out about all the amazing things OCSA is doing to further the fight against ovarian cancer.

Grace Color Guard

OCSA: You kindly supported the Posejpal family through a very tough time, can you talk a little about that friendship?
We have known the Posejpal family for many years.  Our son Gus is in the same grade as Zack & Lindsay and has been friends with them since kindergarten.  Angela & Michelle volunteered on the PTO at Williamsburg Elementary School together and we became friends through those past connections.  We were heartbroken at the loss of our friend all too soon to ovarian cancer.  We wanted to support George & the twins in any way possible.  The small gesture of cutting the grass for George or brightening up his gardens was our way of trying to help in a small way and bring a little ray of sunshine to the Posejpal family during an extraordinarily difficult time.

OCSA: You have a close personal relationship with OCSA Board member Kurt Klepitsch, DVM. How long have you known Kurt?
Geno has known Kurt since high school.  When we got our first dog, we started her vet care at Gateway with Kurt.  He is an amazing and extremely caring vet. Our relationship grew through the years as we brought each of our 5 dogs to Gateway. Kurt has always been a wonderful friend and veterinarian to our family. We also formed a business relationship with Kurt through various landscaping projects at his home and Gateway Veterinary Clinic.

OCSA: Can you tell us about your family landscape business?
Neri Landscape has been in business for 20 years.  We began our business to create beauty and provide superior customer service to our clients.  We are a full service landscape company that offers landscape design and installation; weekly lawn maintenance; brick paver & natural stone work; design and installation of patios, sidewalks, & driveways; water features & ponds; outdoor lighting; spring & fall clean ups; and Christmas lighting.  We have a passion for making your yard look amazing whether it is an oasis from the world, your kid’s playground, or that moment in the day where you notice just how beautiful our world is.

Neri Landscaping

OCSA: You have sponsored OCSA’s events for the last couple of years and you believe in giving back to the community.  Can you tell us a little bit about the other organizations you support?
We love the Fox Valley Community. We try to give back by doing good works and investing in our wonderful community where we are so fortunate to raise our 3 children.  We love to support organizations close to our hearts such as OCSA at the Annual Dog Walk and Golf Event, The Northern Illinois Food Bank-every year we begin our season with an all company food pack, Geneva Beautification Committee-we sponsor and care for a garden by the Geneva Post Office, Williamsburg Elementary PTO-we support the Parent’s Night Out event and Fun Fair event, St. Patrick’s School-we donated to the annual fundraiser, Living Well Cancer Center-we donated to and supported the Stiletto Strut event, Chicago Steel Hockey Team-we are a sponsor of the USHL Jr. Hockey team, Geneva Baseball Association-we have sponsored Geneva Baseball, and Fox Valley Court Watch for victims of domestic violence-we help support through donation.  We believe that creating beauty all around us comes from within.

Grace and kids

Celebrating Mother’s Day With Two Inspiring Women

On this Mother’s Day weekend we would like to introduce you to a very special Mother/Daughter Team who have a special message to share.  OCSA first met Jenny O’Brien in 2010, our first year.  She was the marketing director at the St. Charles, IL Visitors Bureau and was so supportive of the first OCSA Dog Walk and helped us immensely with our outreach to the Fox River Valley Community.  Her mother supported us every step of the way…now learn more about these two incredible women!

Geralyn and Jenny

Let’s get started with Geralyn. This incredible, brave woman is inspiring to talk to and spend time with.

Can you tell us about yourself?
First, Jenny and I would like to thank OCSA for giving us the opportunity to share our cancer journey. “OUR” because cancer truly is a family illness. Everyone who loves and cares about you will be affected and will be part of your healing process.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997 at the age of 42 with a second diagnosis of breast cancer in the opposite breast in 2013.  My paternal grandmother and aunt both died from breast cancer, my father was a survivor of esophageal cancer but my sister died from lung cancer and had had colon cancer five years before.  In 2013, I tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene…bringing many new challenges to me and my family. After chemo ended in 2013, I had a mastectomy and also my ovaries and Fallopian tubes removed because of my high risk for ovarian cancer.

I cherish being a wife to Mike, mother to Jenny and Michael, sister, aunt and friend. In addition, I love being an Oncology Esthetician at two cancer resource centers, Living Well Cancer Center in Geneva and Waterford Place in Aurora, where I provide safe facials with individual adjustments based on surgeries and treatments each cancer patients receives. I train estheticians to work with cancer patients and continue my education by attending annual seminars at Oncology Spa Solutions.

As a breast cancer survivor and testing positive for BRCA 2 you inspire so many. Can you share some of your positive memories?
I truly believe the support survivors can give each other is enormous and by supporting others helps in our own recovery. I spent many years after my first diagnosis being a Reach to Recovery volunteer supporting other breast cancer survivors just beginning their journey. I like the ripple effect of seeing other survivors giving back and supporting each other. I had a client who was having a hard time after treatment ended with the physical side effects from her surgeries as well as the emotional effects of the fear of cancer returning. I recommended she try the yoga class which has been vital in not only my physical recovery from all my surgeries but my stress and emotional recovery.  She was a reluctant yoga student but one day I saw her helping a new yoga student who was newly diagnosed with some really sweet, encouraging. Integrative services (www.integrativecancer.org/) can be a vital part of our collective recovery.  It’s important to incorporate stress reducing activities into our everyday lives, because if we don’t take care of ourselves we cannot take care of others!

What advice would you give to the women who have tested positive for the BRCA gene mutation?
It is very important to have a genetic counselor involved in your decision to have BRCA mutation testing. The genetic counselor can help you weigh your options and provide a medical understanding of BRCA mutation for you and your family.  Remember, being tested positive for the BRCA mutation does not mean you will get cancer. Embrace your BRCA diagnosis as it will be a key component in your medical history.  Be sure to pursue a consistent dialogue with your physician who is the “overseer” of your medical success.  Most importantly, balance your day with family and friends and be sure to laugh! I highly recommend that you read the book by Vicki Girard entitled   There’s no place like HOPE, it’s a wonderful guide to “beating cancer in mind-sized bites.”   Other resources include: www.ovariancancersymptomawareness.org/; www.brightpink.org & Facing our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE) @ http://www.facingourrisk.org/index.php

Molly 1.0
Meet Molly!

And now we’d like to introduce you to Jenny, Geralyn’s daughter and wonderful supporter of OCSA.

Can you tell us how you met the folks from OCSA?  We seem to remember the adorable Molly and the first ever “Pet Friendly” Scarecrow Festival in St. Charles, IL.
It seems so long ago, so I hope my memory serves me right! But I believe Vallie and I connected when I was working for the St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau, and I had created a new event for Scarecrow Fest – Canine Corner. I did this after coming up with our Pet Friendly Travel initiative. Vallie and OCSA ended up having a booth at Canine Corner, and I really enjoyed learning bout OCSA and their mission. My mom and I attended a few events after that for OCSA, including the annual dog walk with Molly J

We were so happy to learn that you own and operate Dream Dance Academy in St. Charles, IL.  Can you share the story of how this dream of yours became a reality?
Owning a dance studio has always been a dream of mine since I was a little girl! I have been teaching since I was 18, but always in addition to my full time job after college. I loved my marketing career but I found every time I left that job to go teach after work, it never felt like WORK. I was determined to figure out how to make teaching full-time a reality….and something clicked one day and I followed my gut intuition to just go for it. You never know unless you try, and I here I am today with a thriving, successful dance studio living out my true “pinch me” dreams every day with my students.

We understand that you and your “girls” will be volunteers at the Annual OCSA 5K Dog Walk in September.  What do you hope they learn from the experience?
We are excited to volunteer and help in any way we can! Our dance company (performance and competition team) does one “give back” a month, as I think it is incredibly important to teach them how to use their voice and position to make a difference in non-dance related things, too. Through each volunteer and give back opportunity we do, we want them to learn leadership, team work, and how important it is to help others. Our give back this month was for Lazarus House and each child brought an item from their needs list. They also made “smile cards” for anyone at Lazarus who may need their day brightened a bit.

Dance Kids

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey with genetic testing and the BRCA gene?
When my mom tested positive for BRCA2 during her second cancer diagnosis, I immediately was tested. I could probably write pages on this topic because of all the emotions I went through, but in the end although I was found to NOT have the mutation – it was still a roller coaster of emotions and I learned so much. My story can be found on my blog that I plan to keep up as I still once in a while get messages from people who come across it, who are in my situation or in that “waiting” zone. I am glad to be able to help others, or even educate them – it is a confusing topic that can be a lot to take in and understand.  You can follow my blog at:  http://brcatoempower.blogspot.com/

Introducing OCSA’s Newest Volunteer, Shaleen Jacobs

We are delighted to introduce you to our newest volunteer, Shaleen Jacobs.  We first met Shaleen when she reached out to us in early January of 2016 and now she will represent OCSA in South Africa on World Ovarian Cancer Awareness Day May 8th! She will be distributing OCSA brochures and teal bracelets while sharing the silent symptoms of ovarian cancer with her family, friends and colleagues.


  1. OCSA: Shaleen, welcome to OCSA!!  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m 28 years old and I live in a suburb of Capetown, South Africa called Kraaifontein. I graduated from Scottsdene High School in 2006 and I am interested in business economics, psychology, music, art, and graphic design.  I was first made aware of ovarian cancer after I had a little scare myself but luckily for me it wasn’t anything serious.

  1. OCSA: Can you tell us how you learned about OCSA and our mission?

At the time that I suspected there might be something wrong, I did a little research and discovered the OCSA Facebook page.  I asked a question about the symptoms and learned much about the early signs of ovarian cancer. I also learned that it was important for me to get myself checked out and I did and I am doing alright.

  1. OCSA: Can you tell us what you know about CANSA and how you learned about World Ovarian Cancer Awareness Day on May 8th?

The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) is a non-profit organization that fight cancer, and offers support to cancer patients. I discovered that CANSA celebrates World Ovarian Cancer day every year on May 8th and I hope to do my part to let people know more about the disease and symptoms.

  1. OCSA: We are thrilled to welcome you as a volunteer to help us spread the word about the silent symptoms of ovarian cancer in South Africa.  What, personally, do you hope to accomplish and how can OCSA help you?

Thank you and I’m very excited about volunteering! Coming from a small community I realized that women here (including myself) aren’t educated well enough about the disease…I’m hoping to spread the word about ovarian cancer and make them aware of the disease and the symptoms, early detection can save a life!




OCSA Supports February Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in Australia!

Teal Soldiers is an awareness group based in Brisbane, Australia whose mission is to “get awareness” for this silent killer out into their community.  Through their various campaigns they hope to target a wider community.

carolyn wagner

Meet Carolyn Wagner. After braving this disease at the early age of 11, Carolyn beat the 30% survival rate handed down by doctors. 18 years later, Carolyn is now finally ready to share her story and raise awareness.

OCSA: Carolyn, welcome to OCSA!! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hello, I am a 31 year old OC survivor. I was diagnosed at the very young age of 11 with scares at the age of 17 and a cervical carcinoma at age 29.  Each time has been life changing and made me realize how much I need to start getting awareness out there. I am also an avid writer and enjoy horse riding and reading.

OCSA: Can you tell us about the Ovarian Cancer Awareness campaign in Australia?

There are a number of different organizations in Australia with Feel Teal and Ovarian Cancer Australia being two of the major ones. Teal Soldiers is my own company I have founded with the aim of getting the awareness out there as much as we can without asking for money from people unless it’s a particularly special campaign such as the film which costs quite a bit to make.

OCSA: Can you tell us about the Teal Soldiers Film?

Teal Soldiers short film came about after my previous few films had picked up a few awards. I decided that the next film I needed to do had to be a causes piece and what better cause than the one that touched my life so much.

OCSA: How can your friends around the world participate in your Twibbon Campaign?

The twibbon campaign is another simple and free way that people can show their support and raise awareness. It is great to see it start popping up all over the place. It received over 100 supporters in the first couple of days.

They can simply follow this link and add it to their Facebook or twitter profile picture: http://twibbon.com/support/teal-soldiers-oca?fb_ref=Default

OCSA: What, personally, do you hope to accomplish with your ovarian cancer awareness mission and how can OCSA help you?

I hope that even one woman can see what I am doing and learn about signs they had no idea about and detect this silent killer earlier than they normally would have and save their life. That’s the dream goal. I eagerly await to hear survival stories that was a result of my awareness campaign. How can you help? Keep on “keeping on” and raise awareness. Share campaigns and do what you always do. Thank you.

December OCSA One Health Champions

We end our year-long One Health Champion Series by introducing four very special OCSA supporters and the One Health Conversation in Action!

Shohreh Shahabi, MD, is the chief of the division of gynecologic oncology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Dr. Shahabi is an outstanding leader in gynecologic oncology, who puts her patients first. She is at the forefront of medical and surgical advances in her field, runs innovative clinical research programs and is instrumental in sharing her knowledge and experience with her residents and fellows who will be our future physician leaders,” said Serdar Bulun, MD, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Her expertise provides an opportunity to broaden the scope of patient care by putting research findings into clinical practice for personalized therapies.” Jointly with Sheldon Rubin, DVM, Dr. Shahabi graciously led the OCSA NW Side Team at their Dog Walk on September 13, 2015

Mario Javier Pineda, MD is a Gynecologic Oncologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and an Assistant Professor in the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He is actively involved in the investigation of gynecologic malignancies at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center. According to OCSA Board member Dr. Julian Schink, “he is the future.” Jointly with several veterinarians, including the former CEO of the One Health Commission, Dr. Roger Mahr, Dr. Pineda graciously led the OCSA St. Charles Dog Walk team at their Dog Walk on September 13, 2015.

Drucella Stingley, RN, received the Nancy Anderson Award for Excellence in Gynecologic Oncology Nursing in 2015. The award, presented by John Lurain, MD was established in 2010 in honor of Nancy Anderson, MSN, RN, by the family of Marcia Stenn, who lost her life to ovarian cancer. Dru, otherwise known as “one of the angels who rock” has made a huge difference in the lives of her patients. She was the oncology nurse caring for Susan Roman and Katelyn Klepitsch. And what does she do in her spare time? She runs full or half marathons or “walks” in support of ovarian cancer awareness and research, of course.

Lori Clemens, ovarian cancer survivor, was diagnosed in February 2003 at age 48. Her diagnosis was a fluke. She understands how very blessed she is. When she was diagnosed, she knew no one who had ovarian cancer let alone survived it. She gives back. She supports several ovarian cancer organizations including OCSA. She has created a monthly forum for ovarian cancer survivors to share stories and support each other. Just by chance, she attended the 2011 Dog Walk and was surprised to finally meet, in person, the ovarian cancer survivor she had been mentoring and it was none other than OCSA Advisory board member Dorothy Malone!! At that same event, she met OCSA co-founder Susan Roman too.

Read about all of OCSA’s One Health Champions on our website!

OCSA Champions: Meet Team OCSA

November is a time of Thanksgiving and it is only appropriate that we pay tribute to all of you who have so graciously given of your time, your talent and your good will. As one OCSA board member so eloquently stated “it takes an army.”

Since our inception, Team OCSA has dedicated itself to “Fight Ovarian Cancer with Animal Passion.” There are many individuals from different walks of life who have come together to “get the word out” on the silent symptoms of ovarian cancer. And there is a belief that we might have even saved a life or two.

OCSA team

Here are some members that we would especially like to thank:

Darlene Arden, Susan Arnold, Carolyn Ascher, Cindy Charlier, Brigid Gallagher, Brian Hall, Denise Harvill, Abbey Jennings, Kris Junkas, Bob Karr, Kurt Klepitsch, Bob Loess, Roger & Marilyn Mahr, Marissa Oberlander, Bryan Pieper, Rick Roman, Christine Rosko, John Schoff, Marcy Twardak, Regina Taylor, Peter Weber, Robin Weber, Kelly Wisecarver and Sam Wolf.

See our full Advisory Board, Board of Directors, Leadership and Planning Committee.

OCSA Champions: Deborah Lakamp, CAE and Dr. Tracy Myers

In celebration of the 133rd Annual ISVMA convention taking place in Springfield, Illinois October 23-25, 2015, meet October One Health Champions ISVMA Executive Director Deborah Lakamp and ISVMA President Tracy Myers, DVM.

Deborah Lakamp, CAE, accepted the Deborah Lakampleadership role at the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association in the spring of 2015. She brings over 25 years of association management experience to her role as executive director.  Her background includes service in the agriculture, business, industry, social services and law enforcement professions.

One Health Conversation in her own words: “One Health initiatives are the type of research, medicine and sharing that allows physicians and veterinarians to help both our human and fur family live healthier and longer lives. As a breast cancer survivor, I know that my diagnosis and treatment were more efficient and effective as is my preventative care in the future as a result of collaborations in the One Health arena.”

Tracy MyersDr. Tracy Myers, current president of the ISVMA, was born in Clarence, Missouri and raised on a row crop and swine farm. She graduated from the University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine in May 1998. She joined Whitney Veterinary Hospital in 2004. She has special interests in surgery and preventative medicine.

One Health Conversation in her own words: “Having taken care of thousands of large and small animals, it is amazing how similar animal and human health concerns occur in parallel tracks.  Exploring and sharing our expertise between the two professions is a bright spot in the future as it will likely lead to advances for animal and human health. I am excited to be part of a profession that is looking at the whole picture of human and animal health, the factors that influence health and, ultimately, the expanded options and cures we can offer our patients in the future.”

We treasure our partnership with the ISVMA first introduced in 2010 by OCSA’s Veterinary Outreach Program (VOP) member Dr. Rosemary LoGuidice.  Many along the way have helped forge this partnership including Brenda Weber, who was organizing the annual ISVMA Convention that year, and former executive director of the ISVMA, Peter Weber, MS, CAE whose professional staff included the current Executive Director Deborah Lakamp.

OCSA Board member Kristin Junkas, DVM will make a presentation at the convention this year on Sunday, October 25 entitled Practicing with a “One Health” State of Mind. Dr. Junkas says, “Veterinarians are more than just medical providers for our animal patients. We impact our patient’s families in broader ways than sometimes we are even aware. As we care for the pets which we took an oath to serve on a daily basis, it is apparent that veterinarians can be part of a one health approach which encompasses diseases that affect both the animals as well as their human caregivers. We may also indirectly serve as guides to encourage owners to be more aware of their own health and well-being by pro-actively promoting preventative care and management of illnesses in our animal patients as demonstrated by this collaboration between the St. Charles, IL based Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness Organization and its innovative Veterinary Outreach Program.”

To learn more about the ISVMA 133rd Annual convention, please visit: https://isvma.org/2015ConventionBrochure.pdf

A Conversation With The Family Behind Oche For The Ovaries

On September 26th, the 2nd Annual Oche for the Ovaries Dart Tournament and Benefit will be held at Ski’s All American Pub in Sycamore, IL. The first event last year organized by the Acord Family raised nearly $2,000. This year, the event will be held in honor of K Lynn Acord who passed away on Mother’s Day from ovarian cancer. K Lynn was a huge supporter of this event and the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness Organization. Today, her family reminisces on her life and what they are doing to keep her spirit alive.
Svec Blog Post 1
OCSA:  Georg, can you tell us about your Aunt K Lynn Acord?

Georg: My Aunt was the lynch pin of my Mother’s side of the family.  She always seemed able to make the best of any situation and was such a kind and warm influence on all of us.  She genuinely cared about us all, and humanity for that matter, and tried her best to calm us when times got tough.  I’ve never heard a bad word about her, and I believe that has to do with how she lived.  She sacrificed all for everyone around her.  She was the last thing on her own mind.  We all knew she was quite sick, but she knew she was literally dying the last time we spoke- and she kept it from us.  She worried about how we would react and how stressful it would be for us.  She was an amazing artist, and I think she left this world a little prettier with her drawings, paintings, and jewelry.  She left this world a better place for having worked for the U.S. Navy, for talking to other cancer patients in a way that brightened their day, for making us all take notice of who we are and how we should live.  She was a voice of reason when things didn’t make sense.
Svec Blog Post 2OCSA: On September 26th, you will be hosting the second annual Oches for Ovaries Tournament at Ski’s American Pub in Sycamore, Illinois.  Can you tell us more about “Oches” and the significance it has for your family?

Georg: “Oche” is a term used to describe the line a darts player stands behind to throw his round of darts.  I have been playing darts now for 14 years and the darts community in Illinois is amazingly warm.  They support all kinds of causes and are always ready to embrace newer players.  I’m just glad we have a darts bar like Ski’s that fosters and nurtures such a tremendous community of caring people.

Val:  Oche is the lines a dart thrower stands behind before throwing his/her darts.  Georg is very competitive and a very good dart player.  When his aunt was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer he felt helpless as most family members do.  Georg wanted to help his aunt in some way, but her concern was with others.  She wanted other women to understand the importance of the silent symptoms and education.  Georg decided he wanted to raise money for education in honor of his aunt.  The dart community is very tight and love helping whenever they can so Georg decided to combine his passion of darts with Aunt K’s passion of educating other women.
Svec Blog Post 4OCSA: Do you have to know how to play darts to attend “Oches”?

Georg: Not at all.  Even if you do not play darts, there will be raffles and food available for non-participants in the tournament.  It is a great time and the Ovarian Cancer support community and the darting community seem to love getting together and learning more about each other.

Val: You do not have to know how to play darts to attend “Oches”.  If you would like to participate in the dart tournament the dart players are very accommodating to new players, and we will have plenty of food and great raffle prizes for those who would like to help a great cause, but not particularly interested in darts.

OCSA: Elizabeth Svec is a very special lady, can you tell us more about her?

Georg: She’s my mom, and she’s one of the strongest people I know.  I don’t know how she does what she does.  She got us involved in raising awareness and has been the one working really hard behind the scenes.  She loved K so much; this benefit means the world to her.  I can’t thank her enough for not only giving me life, but for always knowing exactly what to do.

Val: Elizabeth Svec is my mother-in-law and is a very special lady.  Liz has the biggest heart and cares for her family more than anything else.  When Aunt K was diagnosed it tore Liz apart emotionally.  She also wanted to help in any way possible, but was the best medicine for K without even knowing it. She listened without judgment.
Svec Blog Post 3OCSA:  Val, What can OCSA do to celebrate K Lynn’s life and her passion to get the word out on the silent symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Val: OCSA can celebrate K’s life and passion by continuing to do what they have been doing.  K was an animal lover and finding the ability for dogs to help those with cancer would be right up K’s alley.  K loved life and loved those in her life.  She wanted young women to understand the silent symptoms of Ovarian Cancer and to trust their instincts.  Know your body and stick to your guns around medical providers was the message K repeated to me many times.

OCSA Champions: Dr. and Mrs. Roger Mahr

Celebrating 2 very special One Health Champions as we begin National Ovarian Cancer Month….Meet Dr. and Mrs. Roger Mahr
Mr. Mrs. Mahr
OCSA was first introduced to Dr. and Mrs. Roger Mahr in 2012 by Peter Weber, who at the time was the executive director of the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association. Together this amazing couple have been THE catalysts who have promoted OCSA’s Mission “Fighting Ovarian Cancer with Animal Passion” as the perfect example of the “One Health Conversation”.

Roger is the former CEO of the One Health Commission. The “One Health Initiative” was established in 2007 through the collaborative vision of Roger Mahr, DVM and the late Ronald Davis, MD as concurrent presidents of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and American Medical Association (AMA) respectively. Marilyn Mahr was born and raised in Freeport, Illinois. Marilyn and Roger were married on June 24, 1972. Together they established Meadow View Veterinary Clinic in Geneva, Illinois in 1974. Marilyn supported the practice in various capacities, including office manager for over 20 years. During those years she actively promoted the veterinary medical profession in various leadership positions with the Auxiliaries to the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association, Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Veterinary Medical Association. A priority throughout Marilyn’s and Roger’s professional lives has been a strong dedication to their family.

It was at the Susan M. Roman Veterinary Scholarship dinner at The Signature Room at the 95th that Roger and Marilyn brought the world leadership of veterinary medicine together to honor the memory of our late co-founder. The dinner took place during the 150th anniversary of the American Veterinary Medical Association Conference that was held in Chicago. It was a magical night.

In Her Own Words:
Throughout our life together I have provided faithful support and encouragement to Roger in fulfilling his leadership commitments. Most recently, this included his service as president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. During that time he shared his vision for a One Health initiative calling for collaboration among all health professions and related entities to work together to improve the health of people, animals, and the environment. It was a privilege for us to travel together throughout our country and the world sharing and promoting that message.

OCSA is forever grateful to Roger and Marilyn for their enduring wisdom and kind support of our organization.

Celebrating 5 Years With Executive Director and Co-Founder Vallie Szymanski

OCSA Newsletter Collage
OCSA celebrates 5 years in 2015, can you tell us how it all started?
While at United Airlines, I was the Manager of International Market Relations and supported the International Sales Force by fostering key relationships with high level business and tourism organizations that resulted in incremental revenue for United Airlines. In 1997, I met Rick and Susan Roman, owners of The Signature Room at the 95th.  Together with their Vice President of Operations, Luigi Millicardi, we collaborated on literally hundreds of events that complemented both business entities. During that process, we became very close friends.  One thing that always impressed me was the way the Romans gave back to the community. Their Charity of the Month Program, instituted in 1992 by Rick Roman and his partner Nick Pyknis raised over $1M that benefited Chicago Charities.  So when Susan was diagnosed with Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer in 2010, I knew that we needed to do something significant.  At first, Susan was very shy about bringing any sort of attention to herself. But the more she thought about it, the more she knew she could make a difference. And in a 3am email to me on January 7, 2011 she said “So I am lying in bed and all I can think about is speeches. And websites. And presentations. And touching as many people as possible to get the word out on this disease. That must always be our main focus, in my opinion.”  And that was exactly the direction OCSA Board Member Dr. Julian Schink suggested that we follow.  At the time he was the Chief of the Gynecological Division at Prentice Women’s Hospital. His exact words were “don’t focus on research or a cure, just get out there and educate women, their families and the medical community about the silent symptoms of ovarian cancer.”  So that’s what we did!  And because of my history with United Airlines, he specifically wanted us to reach out to United Airlines flight attendants because our message would instantly “go global.”  And so there we were, 1 year later, spending 5 days at the United Airlines Flight Domicile at O’Hare Airport, sharing the silent symptoms with flight attendants and pilots!!!

Why the outreach to the Veterinary Community?
Rick, Susan and I wanted a human/animal component.  We loved our dogs and thought a Dog Walk would be a lot of fun.  We also thought that Susan’s dog Bacchus identified her tumor alerting her to her ovarian cancer.  My father was a veterinarian and I have always loved the profession. That’s when I reached out to my veterinarian, Dr. Kurt Klepitsch and asked him what he thought about an awareness program that would include some kind of partnership with the veterinary community. He heartily supported the idea and then we learned that 80% of veterinary school graduates are now women…when my father was in practice only 1% of veterinarians were women.  And the majority of clients who take their pets to their “vet” are women.  Ironically, clients feel very comfortable talking to their veterinarians about their own health problems.  So it was a natural fit for us and the veterinary community has been very welcoming.  They have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help us get the word out on the silent symptoms of ovarian cancer.  Next we discovered the very important “One Health Initiative” that was introduced to me by Dr. Roger Mahr. “One Health is defined as the collaborative effort of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally, and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment.” His wisdom and never ending support have allowed OCSA to be a perfect example of “One Health” in action.

Can you compare today’s OCSA to OCSA’s beginnings in 2010?
Good question, the first two years, Susan was with us.  Sadly, she passed away in 2012 and it rather knocked the wind out of our sails.  The week she died, we learned from Dr. Klepitsch that his 19 year old niece, Kaitlyn was diagnosed with stage 1 small cell ovarian cancer which is a very deadly form of the disease.  We lost her in 2013. Kurt and his entire family have joined our cause.  Kurt has become our most eloquent spokesman and OCSA’s headquarters now reside at his Gateway Veterinary Clinic in St. Charles, IL.  Our passion continues and we all still get a bit emotional whenever we talk about Susan or Kaitlyn.  We have made tremendous progress, in the past 5 years. In fact, we think that 8-10 people who paid attention to our message actually acted on the early warning signs, visited their doctors and are still here today!

What do you like best about OCSA?
It’s always about the people.  We have the most amazing, wonderful group of supporters spanning all ages.  They give so much and I am very humbled by their friendship and dedication. And I can’t forget my dear husband Joe, Sharrah’s Ch Khalin (the spokes dog) and the 2 black cats!  Couldn’t have done any of this without them!

What does the future hold for OCSA?
We are very excited about the work that is being conducted under the leadership of Dr. Cindy Otto at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. They recently showcased their work at FORCEs, a Hereditary Cancer Conference held for those affected by hereditary ovarian and breast cancers.  Their presentation was entitled “The NOSE Knows! Sniffing Out Ovarian Cancer” they presented with Monell Chemical Senses Center and the Penn Nanotechnology group. They shared their vision for discovering exactly what it is that the dogs are detecting and finding a way to turn that into a route screening test for all women.  Can you just imagine the impact a test like that could have?

We are taking our Dog Walks “on the road.” This year we will have 2 Dog Walks, one in St. Charles and one on the NW Side of Chicago. It is truly a beautiful way to spend time with family, friends and dogs while simultaneously getting the word out on the silent symptoms of ovarian cancer.

In closing, I am reminded of what my dear friend Susan Roman said after we had “closed the deal” for our first OCSA Event at Andy’s Jazz Club in 2010 “Not bad for a couple of old broads!!!” I suspect the founding OCSA gal pals Marcy, Kelly, Robin, Sam, Abbey, Marissa, Brigid, Denise, Regina, Yoko, Barb, Dorothy, Kathy, Sheila, Natacha, Drucella, Kris, Marilyn, Paulette, Mae, Darlene, Deb, Debbie, Bev, Denyse, Merrill, Robyn, Cindy, Deenie,  Kristin, Peggy, Carolyn, Anna, Radka, Leah, Rebecca, Theresa and Mary just might agree!