Making more people aware of the silent, deadly disease of ovarian cancer is the mission for Rachel and Bob Gendelman — the daughter and husband of Sherri Gendelman, who died Nov. 22, 2014, after a 17-month battle with the cancer that annually kills about 14,000 women.
On July 30, 2016, more than 400 people came out to support the 2nd Annual Sherri’s Walk by the Water, an event designed to raise funds that will help put an end to a disease that the American Cancer Society calls a silent killer.
“Our goal was to raise as much money as possible for ovarian cancer research initiatives,” explains Sherri’s daughter, Rachel Gendelman, who with her father, Bob, created the Sherri S. Gendelman Fund and organized Sherri’s Walk by the Water, which was hosted by the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition this year.
Starting at 8 AM at Margate, New Jersey’s famous Lucy the Elephant national historic landmark, a sea of sweaty but determined supporters took a two-mile walk down the beach to the pier that Sherri and her family strolled to for decades. By 10 AM, they raised $79,149.
Scroll down for our interview with the friends and family members who are keeping Sherri’s memory alive through this annual event.
Be Inkandescent: Barbara, you and I were childhood friends, and I am so impressed with the work you have done creating your own remarkably successful video firm based in Philadelphia, BTK Communications Group. I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your dear friend Sherri. Take us back to the beginning of this organization. How did it come to fruition?
Barbara Tarlow Radler: Bob and Rachel told me they had an idea to start a fund to raise money for clinical trials at Abington hospital — and help provide access to patients who couldn’t afford care.
Be Inkandescent: You must have been devastated by your loss. It’s so awful when our parents and grandparents pass, but to have a friend die must have been a blow beyond belief. Some of our readers may have struggled with similar grief.
Barbara Tarlow Radler: It’s definitely a process. And a year and a half later, I still can’t believe this happened. Sherri was my healthy friend who went to the gym every day. She was the best listener, never judged, and always made me feel like family. I remember going out for lunch with Bob several months after Sherri passed. I was thinking I should be cheering him up, and he said, “Man, you’re depressing.” He actually gave me his grief counseling papers and made me read up on them … and made me take the thousand pictures I had of her in my office and downsize to my two favorites … one day at a time. Now when I get my signals from her, I smile and think of the memories we shared. Yes, I still have my rough moments — and this is one of them … but I get a warm feeling in my heart, instead of that sick empty feeling every time I think of her.
Be Inkandescent: What I think is truly a testimony to Sherri is how you all banded together, gathered your personal strengths, and curated this event. Was the first one tough to create?
Barbara Tarlow Radler: Actually, for the first event, we were on a mission We had no idea what we were doing — we just jumped in. I knew I could produce a video to tell our story, but it was really Rachel, Bob, and Sue with the vision of the event, and how to fundraise. I just tried to help where I could.
Be Inkandescent: So how did the second event, on July 30, 2016, come to fruition?
Barbara Tarlow Radler: The second event was trickier. We all knew how hard the first event was, and we were all starting to heal a little bit, and the thought of doing it again felt very overwhelming … but I called Rachel and said, “Look, I understand if it’s too much — it feels overwhelming to me and your dad, Sue, and our friend Lori … we all were worried it would be too much — but whatever you decide, I am here to support you. And Rachel said, “I know it will be hard, but I want to do this.” And here we are.
Be Inkandescent: That brings us to you, Rachel. You are clearly a powerhouse when it comes to making things happen. Tell us a little about yourself — what you do for a living — and what you learned from your mom.
Rachel Gendelman: I currently live in Center City, Philadelphia, and I work for a healthcare company in sales covering the Southern New Jersey area. In my free time, aside from our mission on curing ovarian cancer, I enjoy volunteering with animals and spending time with friends and family. I learned so many things from my mom, and the older I get the more I start to see her ways in me — from being able to find the best deals when shopping, to my love for animals and music, to being extremely compassionate toward everyone I come in contact with.
She said to me the day before she was moved to hospice that you never know how strong you can be until faced with a challenge. Whether it was cancer, work challenges, or personal challenges, she reminded me that no matter how difficult something is, you are able to face it and deal with it. When she said this, she was talking about her 17-month battle with ovarian cancer, because she tried everything she possibly could to stay with us, and faced her fears and the unknown. Although it was not the outcome we wanted, she was able to get through the daily challenges she was faced with in those 17 months.
Be Inkandescent: Every mother who reads this knows that your mom is insanely proud of you. Does this event keep you closer to her? I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to move on from this loss. How are you doing?
Rachel Gendelman: It does. This event for me is about keeping my mom’s memory alive and at the same time helping thousands of patients, whether it’s in research, clinical trials, or patient assistance. I remember my mom telling me to keep her Facebook active and make sure that no one forgets about her. This is the best way for us to honor her memory and to shed light on a disease that most are not familiar with.
We are not only able to save patients through the funds we raise, but also by shedding that light on awareness/symptoms. Even though challenging, this event does make us feel good about helping people while keeping her name out there. Each day is still a bit like a roller coaster. Though it has almost been two years, we still take it day by day. It’s still very hard to believe and accept, but we keep moving forward and try to enjoy life the way she would want us to.
Be Inkandescent: Tell us more about the second annual walk. What are your hopes and goals from this year’s event?
Rachel Gendelman: Our first year doing the walk was such a success that we really wanted to be able to build on last year, meaning a reach of new people, raffles, a DJ, massages, two silent auctions, more participants, and the ability to raise more money!
The Sherri S. Gendelman Fund teamed up with the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition this year, and we were able to make all of those things happen already! I hope that those who attended the event really took away the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. It is a disease that has a 90 percent, five-year survival rate when caught at an earlier stage. Last year alone, we were successful at explaining our mission and awareness, and we were able to help three people go to their doctors who were diagnosed with very early stages of ovarian cancer. One is now cancer free!
Be Inkandescent: Do you hope to host a third event next year? If so, what are your goals and expectations for that one?
Rachel Gendelman: I do. Each year I think emotionally it gets harder. This past year compared to our first year was very difficult for all of us. It starts to make you realize how long it’s been since my mom passed away and how long it has been since I have seen her or had a conversation with her, especially because I used to talk to her multiple times a day, every single day. But the event has been so successful that we are all excited to plan for our 3rd Annual Sherri’s Walk by the Water. My mom deserves to have this event, and those diagnosed with this disease deserve to have the treatment they need and advanced research towards finding a cure.
The expectation, in a sense, still says the same — continuing to build on what has been successful: the ability to reach more people, raise more money, and save lives while keeping my mom’s name out there. It has been amazing to see the ongoing support from friends, family, and even participants we did not know. We also had five ovarian cancer survivors attend the walk, which made it even more special.
Be Inkandescent: Let’s loop in your dad, Bob Gendelman. Bob, from your entrepreneurial perspective, what have you learned? And what would you have done differently knowing what you now know about creating a cancer fund, and hosting events like this one?
Bob Gendelman: Honestly, I would have stayed calmer through every step of the planning phase. As you can imagine, the year following Sherri’s death was very emotional for all of us. Tempers ran high, my internal micromanager took over, and I don’t think I was always on my best behavior. After doing this event two years in a row now, and seeing how successful we were in attracting people to participate and raising funds, I know that everything will be fine. That’s true for any event, and for life in general. I learned again not to sweat the small stuff.
Be Inkandescent: And I have to say to you, of course, how sorry I am for your loss. How are you coping? Does this walk help?
Bob Gendelman: It’s two years later and I sometimes wake up in the morning and I can’t believe this has happened. I try to keep myself busy and be there for Rachel the best I can. I try to be both the best dad and mom I can be for her, but knowing how close Sherri and Rachel were, that’s tough. So this Walk by the Water event for me is mixed; it definitely stirs up emotions that I’m trying to deal with.
But I’ll tell you, the high point was on what would have been Sherri’s 60th birthday, which was a really hard day — and, it was the day the fundraising for the Walk passed the $60,000 mark. I know everyone involved in the planning of this had the chills when that happened. What truly touches us is the outpouring of support. Sherri was worried people would forget, so when hundreds of people signed up and supported our cause in Sherri’s name, it does lift us up.
Be Inkandescent: Now let’s turn the discussion to Sue Epstein, who was a good friend of Sherri’s and took the lead on getting sponsors, as she had the most fundraising experience in the group — and also had the most friends in common with Sherri between their high school class, Zumba, and the Jersey Shore. What kinds of things are important when fundraising?
Sue Epstein: I always feel when people give to fundraising that people give to people, I think sometimes even more than to a cause — although it helps knowing that it’s good cause. Knowing the person who this is in memory or honor of makes it easier, too. The people I reached out to knew this was personal to me, and they knew Sherri and that helped. When they turn you down, just keep a smile on your face and don’t accept “no” for an answer — and eventually they will support your cause.
Be Inkandescent: What happened when you started reaching out to people to be sponsors for the first Walk by the Water? What was your strategy and what did you learn?
Sue Epstein: I knew I would do anything for Rachel, so of course I volunteered to be on the core planning team with Bob and Barbara. And I thought I would just do what I do and reach out to everyone I know. I also know that can be challenging because everyone has their own causes, and it can be awkward to ask people for money. But with all of my years working on fundraisers, I never had such an easy time raising money and finding sponsors. I think it was because to know Sherri was to love Sherri, and people just wanted to be a part of it and support our cause in her name.
Be Inkandescent: What was the second year like for you? Was it harder? What advice would you have for other people trying to start a fund or hold an event?
Sue Epstein: Yes, it was harder the second year. In my opinion the first year is the easiest because you strike when the iron is hot. Especially when it’s in memory of someone who passes, everyone is mourning and remembering and they jump to give. The second year, people may not be as apt to give as much as they did initially because they have gotten busy with their lives. So you have to be persistent, and eventually they will get back on board. But it’s definitely harder as time goes on.
It’s also important that they believe in the cause — and knowing that ovarian cancer can touch so many women and their families means so much to so many. And in this case, I think it helped that a nice portion of the money stayed local … our local people loved that.
Be Inkandescent: Vanda Soldati, let’s turn to you. You are the Delaware Valley chapter manager from the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition who worked on the 2016 walk with Sherri’s team. Tell us about the statistics.
Vanda Soldati: The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2015, more than 21,000 women in the United States received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and at least 14,000 U.S. women died from it. In fact, ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 75. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 100.
Be Inkandescent: From your perspective, why is ovarian cancer still such a problem for so many women?
Vanda Soldati: It’s because the symptoms are nonspecific, and there is a lack of early-detection tests. Women need to look for things like bloating, urinating frequently, getting full quickly, and abdominal or lower back pain, which are symptoms that all women experience at one time or another. Therefore, only about 20 percent of cases are diagnosed early. The key here is to pay attention if these symptoms persist for more two weeks. Since early detection is critical to survival rates, this is the challenge. So knowing this, and alerting your doctor if you experience these symptoms, is essential.
Be Inkandescent: In addition to fundraising and awareness events like Sherri’s Walk by the Water, what is being done to cure this disease?
Vanda Soldati: Remember, the five-year survival rate is high when the cancer is found in its early stages, which is why funding is needed to find early diagnostic tools. The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition is proud to support Sherri’s Walk by the Water because money raised will be going directly to NOCC research initiatives in conjunction with Stand Up to Cancer research initiatives. We are excited because a portion of the money will be going to the Sherri S. Gendelman Fund for Ovarian Cancer Research at Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health, which is local to our NOCC chapter.
In fact, Stand Up to Cancer team leader Dr. Alan D’Andrea says, “We now see defective DNA repair as a more general vulnerability of ovarian cancer. We hope to extend the use of PARP inhibitors to many other patients and find combinations with other drugs that will be effective against ovarian cancer.”
Be Inkandescent: What do you want all of our readers, listeners, and viewers to do to help spread the word?
Vanda Soldati: I’d ask everyone to go to our website, Ovarian.org, where they can see our upcoming events and contribute to and join the fight against ovarian cancer.
For more information about the Sherri S. Gendelman Fund, visit SSGfund.org.