A fundraiser at America the Beautiful Park.

When Sue DiNapoli was battling ovarian cancer, she and her family were distressed to learn that there were no services or support for people with gynecologic cancers similar to the help that was available for breast cancer patients.

“My mother fought the disease for five and a half years,” her daughter, Susan DiNapoli says. Sue DiNapoli succumbed to cancer in 2005. “There were no support groups, no integrative therapy classes, no financial assistance of any kind. My mother was very concerned about the financial burden of cancer.”

DiNapoli and her family also learned that ovarian and other types of gynecologic cancers just weren’t talked about much.

In 2007, Susan DiNapoli and her sister organized a memorial walk to raise awareness of these cancers.

“That little event turned into what we now do annually as our Be Ovary Aware 5K run and 3K walk,” DiNapoli says. It also led to the founding in 2015 of Sue’s Gift.

Through fundraising events like Be Ovary Aware and donations, Sue’s Gift provides support for patients and a financial assistance program that has helped 115 local women in their fight with cancer.

The first Be Ovary Aware fundraiser was a walk from Monument to Palmer Lake with a few dozen participants. Supporters doubled the next year, and the event soon grew to the point where it had to move to a bigger venue — America the Beautiful Park.

“We kept seeing the same people come year after year — other families that had lost their moms or their sisters or who were survivors,” she says. Many of them wanted to help and get involved.

After the formation of the 501(c)3, the organization received support from national sponsors and pharmaceutical companies that enabled it to grow the financial assistance program.

A grant in 2018 from the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance enabled Sue’s Gift to develop a program called Woman to Woman, which pairs survivors with newly diagnosed patients for support and mentorship, and to expand that program throughout the state.

“We’re able to provide support for all seven types of gynecologic cancers,” DiNapoli says. “Every one of those mentors are women that have been touched with our services. They want to come back and help the next round of women that come through.”

DiNapoli, the executive director of Sue’s Gift, is the organization’s only full-time employee. Sherry Martin, a licensed clinical social worker with 30 years of experience in oncology social work, supervises patient services.

It takes 30 to 40 volunteers to produce the Be Ovary Aware event, which by 2019 had grown into “a huge party in the park for 850 of our closest friends,” DiNapoli says.

This year’s event was virtual. People signed up at the organization’s website and pledged to walk or run the race their way, whether that was on a treadmill, in a park or on a mountain road, during the month of September. 

The 2020 event raised only about $4,000, far less than the $25,000 it usually brings in, but expenses were much lower.

Sue’s Gift expects to see an upswing in financial assistance need at the beginning of the year, “when everybody’s health insurance starts over and you have to make your deductible,” DiNapoli says. “We’re bracing for that, and we are hoping to raise as much as we can so that we can continue to meet that need.” 

Disclosure: Indy Assistant Publisher Jenn Cancellier is on the board of Sue’s Gift.

Jeanne Davant is a graduate of the University of North Carolina. She worked for daily newspapers in D.C., North Carolina and Colorado, and has taught journalism and creative writing. She joined the Colorado Publishing House in 2017.