Julie Ratner’s sister Ellen Hermanson was a go-getter, an activist, and adversary in the war against breast cancer.
Hermanson’s personal battle with the disease began in February 1989 when she was diagnosed while still nursing her six-month-old daughter. The journalist gave a voice to survivors in need, and educated readers on the importance of being well informed, the challenges of living with breast cancer, and the availability of resources to help with the myriad problems that arise because of it. Her work with the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship — delivering a speech “One Patient’s Pain” in November 1994 — and as first executive director of Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert did the same.
So, after Hermanson lost her battle with breast cancer on April 11, 1995, at the age of 42, Ratner decided to continue the fight.
“It’s my way of honoring my sister Ellen’s life and all that she did and accomplished in her lifetime,” Ratner said. “She didn’t have a chance to complete the work that was so important to her, and so, I am. I don’t want anyone to suffer the way my sister did.”
Ellen’s Run, a 5K now in its 24th year, benefits the Ellen Hermanson Foundation, a nonprofit established in 1997 which continues Hermanson’s advocacy work while benefiting the Ellen Hermanson Breast Center at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital by funding state-of-the-art technology. No patient is turned away from the center for lack of insurance or inability to pay for treatment, and all services though what’s called “Ellen’s Well” — a program that provides psychosocial support for breast cancer survivors under the leadership of specially-trained oncological social workers — are provided free of charge.
“My sister focused all her journalistic talent on the breast cancer world, and she was extremely effective,” Ratner said. “She dealt with a lot of pain, and pain management was her focus when she died. I was amazed at her courage. I was in awe of her grace. She never complained. She was scared — she didn’t want to die — had this horrific pain, and with all that she went on with her life still being the warm woman she was, still so willing to help other people. It was her incredible grit that inspired me and has guided me since she died.”
The first Ellen’s Run attracted over 500 participants and raised more than $62,000 — what Ratner called “an astonishing success” for an inaugural event. By the third year, the amount of money raised had more than doubled, and by the 20th, the number of runners had grown to over 1000, with the Ellen Hermanson Foundation awarding more than $4 million in grants.
She said stepping onto the race course always gives her an emotional high, and is a moving moment for all attendees.
“You see all these people come out and celebrate life, honor those that have survived and those that died, remember them,” Ratner said. “The whole experience is one that’s healing and exhilarating. It’s conflicting emotions, but on race day I think I am a mass of conflicting emotions — of happiness, excitement, sadness. I do this with great joy, and I’m also sad because I do miss my sister, a lot, all the time.”
Ellen’s Run, which starts on Sunday, August 18 at 9 AM at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital’s Parrish Memorial Hall, 265 Herrick Road, costs $45. If each participant raised $100, The Ellen Hermanson Foundation could provide 1000 free mammograms to women in need.
“I’m doing what I want to be doing, and I feel very grateful to be able to,” Ratner said. “It’s a great honor and privilege; it’s meaningful work. It makes a difference and it helps people.”
For more information, visit www.ellenhermanson.org.