At the New York State Fair last year, Frieda Weeks was approached by a woman who told her the kind of news she loves to hear.
“She was a woman of the cloth and she said, ‘I want you to know that two years ago I got a symptom card and I went to my doctor and I had ovarian cancer,’” Frieda said. “She’s still here with us because she took the initiative because she got her symptom card. That’s what we want. We want survival. We want women to know.”
Frieda is the director of Hope for Heather, a Liverpool-based nonprofit that works to raise awareness about ovarian cancer, as well as fund ovarian cancer research. The organization is named after Frieda’s daughter Heather, a 2002 Liverpool High School graduate who passed away from colon cancer in 2008. Before her death, Heather worked for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. Hope for Heather, which Frieda and her husband Gary started shortly after losing Heather, represents the fulfillment of her last wish to champion the cause and support women undergoing treatment as well as their families.
“That was Heather’s dream,” Frieda said. “That’s our goal—that some morning, on Sept. 1, I’m going to turn on ‘Good Morning America’ and everybody’s going to be in teal, and they’re going to say, hey, [September] is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. They’re going to talk about the signs and symptoms. They’re going to put that into the spotlight.”
Hope for Heather, meanwhile, will put women in the spotlight on April 14 with its annual fashion show and brunch, to be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Embassy Suites Destiny USA in Syracuse. This year’s event will not only honor the many survivors and victims of ovarian cancer, but also the late Ann Marie Bick, who passed away from metastatic breast cancer in December. The show is one of Hope for Heather’s biggest fundraisers each year.
Frieda said the show is more about the women than what they’re wearing.
“The fashions are secondary and the stories are first,” she said. “Our fashion show is not about youth. It’s about women, real women.”
Those women include one who was told she’d die in two months and is “cancer clean” six years later, and another who was diagnosed at 12 and now, at 40, she’s an Iron Girl.
“We have a lot of survivors,” Frieda said. “Those are the stories we want to share. And we want to share the ones that have the struggles. This year, so-and-so who modeled for us is not here because she passed away.”
There will also be some men on the runway — Hope for Heather’s Men of Teal, men who advocate for the cause in the community and hand out symptom cards throughout the month of September. Notable Men of Teal include Scott Lombardo, who emcees the event and also buys two tables every year so survivors can attend for free; Gary Weeks; and 24th District Rep. John Katko.
“These are men who have stepped up for the cause,” Frieda said. “They stepped up and we want other people to lead, too.”
Proceeds from the fashion show will go toward supporting Hope for Heather’s various efforts in the community. Since its inception in 2009, the nonprofit has raised about $1 million. More than $410,000 has gone toward ovarian cancer research. The organization also funds two support groups, one for BRCA-positive women and one called Sisters in Strength, which is open to any woman with cancer. The foundation has created an Angel Fund at Upstate to pay for incidentals like parking, food and hotel stays for families while women are undergoing treatment. And Hope for Heather works steadily to increase awareness of ovarian cancer in the community.
“Before we started this, it wasn’t talked about,” Frieda said. “Breast cancer is more common—that [affects] 1 in 8 [women] and ovarian is 1 in 70. Because there’s no test for it, they’re diagnosed in late Stage 3, Stage 4. It makes survival very difficult.”
Frieda hopes events like the fashion show will make women much more aware of ovarian cancer and get them talking to their doctors about possible symptoms.
“I’ve been to more funerals than I care to go to, and I’m tired of going to them. I don’t want them anymore,” Frieda said. “I just want women to survive this.”
Hope for Heather Fashion Show and Brunch
- When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, April 14
- Where: Embassy Suites Destiny USA, 311 Hiawatha Blvd. W., Syracuse
- What: Shopping from local vendors and artists, raffles, silent auction, cocktails, brunch and beautiful spring fashions modeled by community leaders and cancer survivors. All funds raised will benefit Hope for Heather.
- Cost: $60 for single tickets; $480 for full table of eight.
- Info: hopefsb2019.eventbrite.com or hopeforheather.org