Cancer Fighters and Survivors Pledge to Continue Promising Research


From left:  Honoree Dr. Robert C. Bast who has discovered CA-125, the only effective biomarker for ovarian cancer; Runsi Sen, Founder and President of Ovarcome; the other main honoree of the evening, Karen Shayne, Survivor Honoree and Co-Founder of Women Survivors Alliance and Dr. Ron DiPinho, President of MD Anderson Cancer Center.

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: Three years after it was launched, the founder of this non-profit that focuses on finding a cure for ovarian cancer has thrust herself full-time in the pursuit. “It was the only way to really make headway in this fight,” Runsi Sen told reporters at the fundraising gala held this past weekend on Saturday, May 16 at the Hotel Sorella in City Centre on the west side.

It only speaks to Sen’s commitment to make headway into the fight against the disease that took her mother Atashi away in Kolkatta in 2009. With an MBA from Rice University and after a stint at Direct Energy, she gave up her job as a strategy consultant with Optimal Strategy Group to push headlong into raising funds for the mission that is closest to her heart. In this, she has the full support of her husband Supryo and their two young sons.


                The Ovarcome Board Members with Melinda Spaulding (right), hostess of the event.                                  Photos: Angel Argueta, Rgueta Photography

Last year was Ovarcome’s first formal fundraiser held at the Houston City Club in Greenway Plaza (see IAN dated May 30, 2014) with a good mix of Indo-Americans and mainstream members of the community, mostly from the field of medical research, cancer diagnostics and treatment. This year’s fundraising gala followed the same formula but broadened its appeal to a larger segment of people who are affected. There were the usual silent and live auctions that helped raise some money for the gala, which raised about $100,000.

Sen introduced the survivors and honored the mothers and other women who lost their battle to OC as well as the doctors, nurses, caregivers, sponsors and friends. She talked about Ovarcome’s mission of awareness, funding R&D and global reach and explained how it had funded three research grants last year. “The journey has begun,” she declared, “but we have miles to go!”


Some of the ovarian cancer survivors with their physicians

But the emphasis was on showing the results of the research funding that Ovarcome has provided. One of the three awards given at the Gala was to Dr. Robert C. Bast, Jr., the Vice President for Translational Research at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He explained, with the help of a series of scientific PowerPoint slides, how his research has led to the development of a CA125 radioimmunoassay that promises to become the first useful marker for screening and monitoring ovarian cancer.

The second award went to Karen Shayne, a former healthcare administrator and an OC survivor who has co-founded SURVIVORville, a support alliance for women who have survived treatment. As the audience learnt that night, of the 21,290 women who develop OC each year, 14,160 will die and the 5-year survival cure rate is 30 per cent. Shayne’s group deals with these women’s issues. She spoke of her awe at the MD Anderson banner with the word Cancer struck out which caught her eye as she landed in Hobby airport. “Things really are bigger in Texas, I thought,” she quipped.

The third award was given to another OC survivor, Indian movie actress Manisha Koirala who could not attend but sent her message by audio file.  She explained how she was a two-year survivor and welcomed her role as the Global Ambassador for Ovarcome, spreading the word wherever she travels.

This fits in with the mission of the non-profit which is to also spread awareness of OC monitoring in Kenya and treatment in India. Video testimonials of the programs it funds were provided by three doctors in India. In addition, Ovarcome announced a $25,000 research grant to the Foundation for Women’s Cancer.


The key volunteers for the evening with Melissa Spaulding (left)

After dinner, and before the live auction, several OC survivors in the room were applauded as they were escorted down the center aisle. Entertainment for the evening was by a young teenager, Chloe Choudhury, who sang “We Shall Overcome” with a deep, soulful voice. Chloe has performed at several community functions in the past year and at the opening of the Houston Rockets New Year’s game and has been a backup singer on Katy Perry’s hit “Roar”. The other performer was an equally talented Pamela Mary who lost her grandmother to OC and has had tumors herself. She did a few country and western songs with a strong voice and stage presence.

The evening was emceed by Channel 26 Fox news co-anchor Melinda Spaulding and Lisa Slater who hosted last year’s gala too. Ovarcome Board member Mike Beck welcomed the 200 guests and last year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Ronald A. DePinho, President of MD Anderson Cancer Center made some opening remarks about the immense progress that has been made in genome therapy to awaken the immune system and attack cancer cells. “This is part of our Moon Shots program to focus on actionable knowledge,” he declared. “Yes, we will overcome!”