Spirit of EmpowermentThese awards recognize individuals and organizations who have made significant commitments to the hereditary cancer community.
We Recognize Those Making Significant Commitments
FORCE presents its Spirit of Empowerment awards annually to recognize those individuals and organizations that have made significant commitments to the hereditary cancer community.
Our winners are recognized for their efforts in research, education, support and for their individual commitment to our organization and our community. We are grateful for their passion and support.
In heartfelt recognition of her unwavering dedication and impactful contributions to the hereditary cancer community, Debbie Denardi has been selected as the 2024 Teri Woodhull Empowerment Award honoree. Debbie’s tireless efforts in raising awareness, fostering community and advocating for those affected by hereditary cancer have distinguished her as a committed volunteer.
Denardi came to FORCE as a patient with her own diagnosis, navigating the complexities of hereditary cancer and its profound impact on individuals and families. Faced with challenges and uncertainties, she found solace and support within the community. Through her advocacy work and personal experiences shared as a volunteer for FORCE, Denardi has become a beacon of hope for countless individuals facing similar struggles.
Debbie Denardi cont...
Born in Argentina, Debbie is dedicated to supporting the Latino/a communities to help reduce disparities, improve access to care and ensure inclusion in clinical trials and research. Her passion for empowering others and amplifying marginalized voices within the hereditary cancer community has been evident in every endeavor she undertakes. Debbie has played a pivotal role in shining a spotlight on cancer disparities, particularly during Minority Health Month. By highlighting the unique challenges faced by minority communities in accessing resources and support, she has sparked important conversations and spurred action toward greater equity and inclusivity.
Denardi's commitment to FORCE as a volunteer, board member and donor continues to make a difference for our community. We extend our heartfelt congratulations to Debbie Denardi on this well-deserved honor and express our gratitude for her ongoing commitment to creating a brighter future for all those facing hereditary cancer.
“Jan surpasses the goal of walking the talk. She runs it to the end!” – Ruth Kucharz, FORCE VP of Development
FORCE is excited to honor the many contributions of Jan Gronemeyer.
Jan learned of her BRCA2 mutation when her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, following the loss of their mother to breast cancer in 2000. She became involved with FORCE as a volunteer in 2014, and since then, has tirelessly used her personal experience and passion to serve others.
Jan invests her energy into running and raising donations for FORCE through TeamFORCE events, including Run Disney events and the TCS New York City Marathon. She and her husband, Paul personally support FORCE as loyal donors and help raise funds from their network of friends, colleagues and community members.
In 2021, Jan spearheaded the effort that led to FORCE becoming an official charity partner of the TCS New York City Marathon. She ran on our inaugural team in the New York City Marathon, used the event to raise funds on behalf of FORCE and enlisted several friends to run on the team during our first two years of participating in the prestigious event.
Regardless of what event Jan is participating in she is focused on far more than just crossing a finish line.
This year, the FORCE staff were inspired to name the Sumlin’s as co-recipients in recognition of their shared love of each other and the FORCE community.
Lauri Haase-Sumlin courageously navigated breast and ovarian cancer for many years up until her death in November 2021. By her side throughout treatment, Marlon served as her caregiver and constant support. Together, they became outspoken advocates for genetic testing and the services offered by FORCE to help ensure people like Lauri, who inherited BRCA1 from her mother, will have the resources and support needed to face their increased risk.
The Sumlin’s are active members of the National Auto Sports Association, NASA Great Lakes Region racing group that has more than 20,000+ members with events throughout the year. Marlon (as did Lauri) posts on social media often and promotes FORCE during races. Lauri wrapped her car in FORCE’s logo and enlisted the support of the racing community by encouraging other drivers to include FORCE’s branding on their cars, helmets, driving gloves and by giving away FORCE brochures and materials. To date, they have also raised more than $15,000 for FORCE.
“The Sumlin’s love of FORCE is an example of two individuals who faced cancer together, found and used our organization to get them through it the best way they could, and decided to give back.” – Ruth Kucharz, VP of DevelopmentAwardee Remarks
Susan has been a dedicated FORCE volunteer since 2012. She is a breast and fallopian tube cancer survivor currently undergoing treatment for primary peritoneal cancer. Thanks in part to discoveries made possible during clinical trial research, she was eligible and is taking a PARP inhibitor, a targeted oral maintenance therapy that she believes will increase her chances of beating this cancer.
Susan has held the volunteer roles of Peer Navigator, Boston Outreach Leader, Project Volunteer, Patient Advocate Leader and Research Advocate. She is extremely passionate about helping FORCE raise awareness so other lives can be saved like hers.
As a FORCE Research Advocate, Susan works directly with researchers to share her personal experience and expertise. She was selected as a consumer reviewer for the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program for breast cancer. It was her responsibility to review research applications and make recommendations on which studies should be funded. Susan is dedicated to keeping abreast of emerging research, clinical trials and new approvals so she can continue to advocate for the best interest of the hereditary cancer community. Additionally, for many years she has been scheduling the FORCE monthly social media content calendar.Awardee Remarks
Announcing the Teri Woodhull Empowerment Award.
This award was created in 2020 by the FORCE Board of Directors, staff and volunteers in recognition of Teri Woodhull’s longstanding service to FORCE and the hereditary cancer community.Learn More
After losing her father to colon cancer when she was 12, Julie’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer five years later. She remembers telling her mother not to worry. They caught it early. Everything will be fine. Her mother survived breast cancer, as did her mother’s identical twin, and they both lived many more years. Yet, in the back of Julie’s mind, she feared that one day she, too, would be diagnosed with cancer.
In 2011, Julie’s radiologist recommended genetic testing. Wasting no time, she met with a genetic counselor and tested positive for a BRCA1 genetic mutation. Without the knowledge of her mutation, Julie’s life may have taken a different path.
And so began Julie’s BRCA journey and the start of a new meaning to her life. Knowing no one who had this genetic mutation, she was amazed to learn about FORCE and reached out to volunteer. She felt a passion to help others. For the past eight years, Julie has helped countless people as a Helpline volunteer, Peer Navigator, proofreader, and fundraiser for FORCE.Awardee Remarks
Maralee’s younger sister Elise was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 and ovarian cancer at age 50, fighting a decade-long battle until she died in 2011. For years, Elise urged Maralee to be tested for the familial BRCA mutation—and for years, Maralee delayed. Finally agreeing to be tested, days before Elise died Maralee learned that she too was positive for a BRCA1 mutation.
Elise connected with FORCE after she was diagnosed and learned that she was BRCA1 positive. The inspiration and support that she received from FORCE was transformative for Elise and her family, who attended local Chicago meetings, as well as national conferences. Knowledge of her BRCA mutation was Elise’s final gift to Maralee. Maralee’s gift to her sister is the Elise Shapira Memorial Fund, a FORCE endowed fund that provides scholarship dollars to FORCE conference attendees and supports the FORCE mission.
Maralee Schwartz has been a FORCE donor since 2013. Her greatest desire for FORCE is for the organization to be better known for its role in educating the public about hereditary cancers and offering support.Awardee Remarks
Rebecca Sutphen, MD
Dr. Rebecca Sutphen is a Professor of Genetics, University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine, Tampa, FL and Chief Medical Officer of InformedDNA. Dr. Sutphen received her medical degree from Temple University, where she was elected to the National Honor Medical Society Alpha Omega Alpha. She is board certified by the American Board of Medical Genetics as a Clinical Geneticist as well as a Molecular Geneticist.
Sutphen has been an NIH-funded researcher for more than a decade. Her research involves identification and management of hereditary cancer risk, strategies for early detection and prevention of cancer, and ways to increase consumer access to genetics experts as well as involve consumers in the entire research process. Dr. Sutphen serves as Co-Principal Investigator leading the ABOUT Network focused on hereditary cancer as part of the National Clinical Research Network PCORnet. A member of the FORCE Medical Advisory Board and Board of Directors, she is also co-author of the book, Confronting Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer along with Kathy Steligo and Dr. Sue Friedman. She is survivor of premenopausal breast cancer and melanoma.Awardee Remarks
TELETIES are known as the strong-grip, no-rip hair tie that gives back. TELETIES are sleek, stylish, colorful and fun, but they are not your average hair tie. They double as a fashionable (and stackable) bracelet that is water-resistant, and stretches to fit your needs. TELETIES provide a strong hold, yet gentle grip that causes less hair damage and fewer headaches. With their unique spiral design, they leave less of a crease compared to traditional ties.
With every TELETIES purchase, a donation is made to FORCE to improve the lives of those facing hereditary cancer. It is important to TELETIES that those who need resources and education have what they need to make informed decisions about hereditary cancer. This is proof of their mission to uphold a resilient product while giving back to the community at the same time.Awardee Remarks
Olufunmilayo Olopade, MD, FACP
A medical oncologist and cancer genetics expert, Dr. Olopade’s pioneering work led to wide adoption of genetic testing for inherited cancers. She was involved in mapping, cloning and characterization of inherited cancer genes for breast and ovarian cancers, and melanoma. Her work has had direct impact on cancer risk stratification and prevention.
Based on findings from her Southside of Chicago practice, Olopade’s laboratory was the first to publish on African American families with BRCA1/2 mutations and extended testing to ethnically diverse populations. Her research has had a profound impact as she works to improve screening and treatment for breast cancer so that every woman has a chance to survive and thrive.
Dr. Olopade is Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and Director, Center for Global Health. A Fellow of professional academies and societies, she has received many honors and awards. Her groundbreaking work in breast cancer among women of African ancestry earned her a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedom from Want Medal, Gregory Mendel Medal, Order of Lincoln award and Officer of the Order of the Niger award.
- Individual Commitment: Dave and Jessie Bushman
- Research: Susan Domchek, MD
- Research: Mary-Claire King, PhD
- Advocacy: National Society of Genetic Counselors
- Media: Alan Blassberg, Director, “Pink & Blue: Colors of Hereditary Cancer”
- Individual Commitment: Brandi Forbes
- Individual Commitment: Linee Zajic
- Individual Commitment: Jen and Glenn Cole
- Research: Dr. Judy Garber, Director of the Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
- Corporate Commitment: BFFL Co. (Best Friends for Life)
- Research: Dr. Alan Ashworth
- Individual Commitment: Tara Freundlich
- Advocacy: Ovarian Cancer National Alliance
- Advocacy: Amy Cohen Epstein
- Advocacy: Lisa Cohen
- Arts & Media: Stacey Sager
- Arts & Media: Kara DioGuardi
- Arts & Media: Annie Parker
- Individual Commitment: Kate Downey Berges
- Indivdual Commitment: Karen Hurley, PhD
- Corporate Committment: Sisco + Berluti
- Research: Mark H. Greene, MD
- Advocacy: Sharon Terry, President and CEO of the Genetic Alliance
- Advocacy: American Civil Liberties Union organized the successful challenge of Myriad's gene patents.
- Arts & Media: Dina Roth Port, award-winning freelance writer, journalist, and author.
- Arts & Media: Joi Morris
- Individual Commitment: The Byer Family
- Research: Steven Narod, MD, Tier I Canada Research Chair in Breast Cancer and a senior scientist at Women's College Research Institute.
- Arts & Media: Kathy Steligo, author of the Breast Reconstruction Guidebook, and editor of Joining FORCEs newsletter.
- Advocacy: Komen for the Cure, for the impact of their advocacy work on the lives of people facing hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
- Advocacy: Ellen Matloff, MS, genetic counselor and director of Yale Cancer Center Genetic Counseling Program and plaintiff in the ACLU patent lawsuit.
- Corporate Commitment: Tiny Little T Shirt Company
- Individual Commitment: Dara & Molly Marias & Myron Caplan, The Butterfly Project
- Research: Dr. Francis Collins
The inaugural Spirit of Empowerment awards were presented at the 5th Annual Joining FORCEs Conference in Orlando, FL. Recipients for the inaugural award were:
- Arts & Media: Joanna Rudnick, Producer & Director, In the Family
- Research: Timothy R. Rebbeck, Ph.D., Cancer Center Genetics, Epidemiology and Risk Reduction Program at Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia, PA
- Advocacy: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz
- Corporate Commitment: Enell, Inc.
- Individual Commitment: Michael Sosin