When Julie Ratner asks the crowd at an Ellen Hermanson Foundation fundraiser to “raise your hand if you, or someone you know, has been affected by breast cancer,” a sea of hands always goes up—an acute reminder that while the treatments for breast cancer have improved in this country, the statistics remain: one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
To that end, the Ellen Hermanson Foundation (EHF) has been funding programs offering access to breast health care and wellness to women on the East End for over 25 years. Founded by Ratner, in honor of her sister, Ellen (who passed away in 1995 at the age of 42—six years after a diagnosis of Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer), the EHF, along with Ellen Hermanson Breast Center at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, serves a great need on the East. The breast center in Southampton (with satellite diagnostic services in East Hampton and Hampton Bays) provides a wide range of state-of-the-art breast health services. “No person is turned away for lack of funds,” emphasizes Ratner.
Ellen’s Run, Ellen’s Well—a program that provides psycho-social support to breast and gynecological cancer—and the winter and summer EHF benefits have become mainstays in a community of supporters Ratner describes as “incredibly diverse and kind-hearted.”
We caught up with Julie Ratner as she was preparing for the EHF’s winter Tickled Pink benefit, on March 6 at 6 p.m. The fundraiser, a “virtual variety show” of comedy and magic, will honor community heroes, salute the “Women of the East End Media” and fund programs at The Center, OLA of Eastern Long Island, The Retreat and the Shinnecock Health Clinic.
This year’s Tickled Pink Winter Benefit will be a little different. What can we expect on March 6?
Last February, our Tickled Pink event with comedian Jessica Kirson raised the roof—she was so funny, people were screaming with laughter, and it was really one of our best events. After the success of our virtual summer benefit, our producer, Christiane Arbesu, suggested a virtual variety show, and with our Executive Director Anne Gomberg, we have a program honoring local heroes and a roster of performers hosted by comedian Michele Balan, who was a finalist on Last Comic Standing.
I think it will really move along and be funny and interesting. We have so many dynamic women out here who work in the media—and we are honoring them [Nicole Barylski, Hamptons.com; Carissa Katz, The East Hampton Star; Bridget LeRoy, WLIW 88.3; Jessica Mackin-Cipro, James Lane Post; Kathryn G. Menu, The Express News Group; Helen S. Rattray, The East Hampton Star; and Victoria Schneps-Yunis and Taylor K. Vecsey, Dan’s Papers].
The entertainers [Michele Balan, Valerie diLorenzo, Mimi Gonazalez, Marion Grodin, Susan Jeremy, Angela LaGreca, Wendy Liebman, Madeleine The Magician] are so talented, and many of them [including this writer/performer] are breast cancer survivors. And it’s a chance to come together and salute our local heroes: Sara Blue, who has done so much for the EHF and Maureen’s Haven; artist/activist April Gornik, Sag Harbor Cinema and The Church; Evelyn Ramunno. Sag Harbor Food Pantry; Marguerite A. Smith, Esq., Shinnecock Indian Nation; and Moira Squires, ICU nurse, founder of Warriors of the East End.
Where will the funds raised from this benefit be directed?
We really try to meet the needs of the community. So many women out here are struggling, so we are becoming focused on women who are underserved and not necessarily getting the care they need… We have reached out to Loretta Davis at The Retreat, Bonnie Cannon at The Center, Mercedes Barré-Williams at the Shinnecock Health Center and Minerva Perez from OLA—and have established a collaborative relationship. The goal is to help serve these communities where women are falling through the cracks. Early detection, as we know, is still the best protection.
How do you feel when you look back at how much the Ellen Hermanson Foundation has grown?
I didn’t know how full my life would become by doing this and how many extraordinary people and friends I would meet. Susie Roden is an amazing partner, I’m grateful to Vivian Shapiro who prompted the original Ellen’s Run, Bob Chaloner who approached us in 2008 about establishing a real facility in my sister’s name at the hospital, the band of dedicated women volunteers who make this ‘little engine that could’ happen, our generous sponsors, and people in the community like (photographer) Lisa Tamburini and so many others for their support. I am so grateful for the opportunity to do this and to meet people who believe in the foundation and who work at it.
How do you think your sister would feel about all that has been achieved in her honor?
Ellen was the most kind-hearted person—so it’s a tribute to her, to have all these people pulling together, making connections, making friends, people who truly care, who want to help each other…and isn’t that what it’s all about?
The Ellen Hermanson Foundation Tickled Pink benefit on March 6 at 6 p.m. is free but advance registration is required. For more info and to donate, visit ellenhermanson.org.