Thursday, September 6, 2007

Cancer101

By Nancy A. Ruhling

Like someone kicked her in the stomach with a combat boot.
That’s what Monica Knoll felt when she was told she had breast cancer. “For women, it’s very emotional because there’s so much at stake – your sexuality, your life, your hair – and you lose perspective,” she says. “One day you’re terrified you’re going to die, and the next day, you’re thinking, ‘Will men still find me attractive when I have significant scars?’”

What’s more, Knoll found that she not only had to take care of herself but also her caregivers. “I had to manage my own fears, and everyone else’s,” she says. “My best friend burst into tears, and my family panicked. It was overwhelming.”

Lori Ross, Diane V. Finnerty, and Monica Knoll
The diagnosis spurred Knoll, a marketing executive, to action and led her to found CANCER101, a comprehensive crash course that gives breast cancer patients and their caregivers the organizational tools and informational resources to help take control of the diagnosis head-on. “There are baby planners and wedding planners,” she says. “Now there is a cancer planner.”

When she had her double mastectomy in 2000 and underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation, Knoll found that having everything she needed to know right at her fingertips kept her and her family and friends focused and calm. So, to help others get organized, she used her new-found data to set up a website, CANCER101.org, and then in partnership with The American Cancer Society, the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups, created a 10-year planner that includes everything from a breast cancer dictionary to questions to ask doctors.

“I know it works because, unfortunately, I was given the opportunity to test out my own planner,” she says. “In 2006, I was diagnosed with a second, primary cancer, ovarian cancer, which hit me harder than the breast cancer, and it became my Bible; it helped me every step of the way.”
“A Day of Polo” at the Greenwich Polo Club (l. to r.): Michael Saperstein and Commissioner Ray Kelly; Kim and Mimi Burnham with little Juliet; Jeffrey Horn, C101 Board Member and friend; Sally Kennedy and Parker Santalucia.
Mrs. and Dr. Richard Borgen, Monica Knoll, Exec Dir of CANCER101 and Tina Radler, Monica’s mother
Each year, Knoll points out, CANCER101 supports thousands of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients in New York City and the tristate area by providing free copies of the planners at cancer centers and hospitals. Her website, CANCER101.org, the first comprehensive database on the subject, lists more than 600 New York City and tristate hospital and advocacy-hosted support groups, wellness classes, lectures and fund-raisers.

But there is still much more work to do because CANCER101, whose funders include private donors and corporations like Lehman Brothers Foundation, Amgen Oncology and Sanofi-Aventis, is set to go national by providing the CANCER101 planner to more than 600 cancer centers and advocacy organizations to hand out to people with breast cancer. Eventually, Knoll hopes to include resources for other types of cancer.
“A Day of Polo” at the Greenwich Polo Club (top to bottom): Diane Finnerty and friends; Katherine Hill (in blue) and friends.
 A gala at Central Park’s Loeb Boathouse which takes place tomorrow (Sept. 7) kicks off the fund-raising campaign, which Knoll hopes will raise $1 million by the end of the year. “There is no other charity like this,” she says. “What we do does not compete with other advocacy organizations because we actually are partnering with them for content.  And we support the other advocacy groups by listing their programs and fund-raisers on our website.”  

Surviving cancer twice has changed Knoll’s life: She devotes all of her time and energy to making CANCER101 the go-to support tool.

“Look where I am today,” the cancer-free Knoll says, adding that she’s looking forward to kicking up her high heels at the Sept. 7 fund-raiser. “I feel great, and I have managed to accomplish so much.”

For more information, go to www.CANCER101.org; to buy tickets for the Sept. 7 Boathouse gala, click here.

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