A survivor and her team still on the run to fight ovarian cancer

Doreen Braverman was pale and gaunt.

She could barely walk, much less run.

And she was facing rounds three and four of chemotherapy.

How she got out of bed to participate in her first run for her® 5k Run and Friendship Walk, a charity fundraiser hosted by Cedars-Sinai to generate funding for ovarian cancer research and awareness, is a mystery – yet it's not.

"I remember sitting on the median on Third Street and waiting for my team members to finish. A friend from the Writers Guild, at the time, was one of the first to finish. After crossing the finish line, he came and sat on the curb alongside me," Braverman said of the experience four years ago. "Seeing all the Team Doreen signs, family, friends and former colleagues was an emotional boost that was tremendously meaningful at a time when my physical and emotional resources were very low."

Team Doreen was started by her husband and two daughters in 2008, the year Braverman's ovarian cancer was discovered. However, her relationship with the disease, like many, began with the tragic death of a loved one. A 20-year-old family friend, Robin Babbini, lost a battle with the disease. Babbini was diagnosed at age 17 with stage-three ovarian cancer, Braverman said.

"She complained of abdominal pain and had other symptoms for a year prior to her diagnosis," she said. "Her disease was quite advanced. She did manage to graduate high school and complete one year of college. … This was someone who went to nursery school with one of my daughters."

Babbini's mother, Paulinda, founded the Ovarian Cancer Circle to educate women about the symptoms of the disease. During a Lunch and Learn event co-chaired by Paulinda in spring 2008, Braverman remembers picking up a bookmark with Babbini's picture on it, as well as a list of ovarian cancer symptoms. One of those symptoms – bloating – stuck with Braverman.

In August, while out of town, Braverman experienced bloating around her abdomen. Instead of thinking it might have been gas, Braverman thought, "Oh my gosh, I have ovarian cancer."

When she returned, she scheduled an appointment with her gynecologist. On Friday, Aug. 15, the doctor conducted a transvaginal ultrasound.

"All he could visualize was fluid, a sign cancer cells were multiplying," she said.

Braverman was referred that afternoon to Andrew Li, a gynecologic oncologist at Cedars-Sinai, and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. That following Monday, three days after her diagnosis, she underwent debulking surgery to remove the cancer. Braverman spent a week in the hospital, and on the eighth day after her surgery, she began chemotherapy

Braverman had no family history of ovarian cancer.

Skip ahead four years, and Braverman's run for her story, albeit with cancer still looming, is much more defined. Braverman and her youngest daughter, Lizzie, are co-captains of Team Doreen.

The team has dozens of regular participants each year and has raised more than $35,000 for the cause. Team Doreen has been among the largest teams three times.

This year's event – scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, at Pan Pacific Park – will continue to raise much needed funds and awareness of ovarian cancer. Money raised by run for her is strictly for research and awareness. Run for her was designed, in partnership with Cedars-Sinai, by Kelli Sargent, who lost her mother to ovarian cancer. Sargent is now a senior team lead and producer in Community Relations and Development. The inaugural event took place in a Cedars-Sinai parking lot in 2005.

Although her daughters have tested negative for any genetic mutations linked to ovarian cancer, Braverman said, the recommendation is for them to take birth control for at least five years. As for herself, Braverman's cancer has been in remission since December 2008.

"I'm like a diabetic. At stages three and four, there's no cure but it's manageable," she said.