Sewickley Heights couple’s fundraiser benefits cancer research

Friday, September 6, 2019 | 9:51 AM

Julie McMullen was just shy of her 27th birthday when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

While it was a shock, Julie said she was lucky that it was detected when it was. In many cases, by the time a woman is diagnosed, the cancer has spread.

“I was having severe abdominal pain, bloating. Stuff like that happens and it’s chalked up to normal cramps or something,” she said. “I knew something was wrong, but I was told ‘You’ll be fine. Have some pain meds and go home.’ I was very thankful that someone finally listened to me. Had we waited any longer, I might have had a different outcome.”

Julie credits Dr. Mark Fuoss for taking action and for contacting Dr. Thomas Krivak, the gynecological oncologist who treated her.

That was more than 13 years ago. Now cancer-free and the mother of three, she and husband Michael are dedicated to raising money for research and drawing awareness to the disease. Their annual fundraiser, The Allegheny Chapman, benefits gynecologic oncology research at Allegheny Health Network (AHN), where Krivak is director of the Ovarian Cancer Center of Excellence.

Held Aug. 28 and 29, this year’s event raised about $340,000. Over the course of five years, the event has raised $1.2 million.

In a message penned by Krivak for the event’s program book, the doctor said there have been “numerous scientific presentations and manuscripts published that have been supported by the generous time and fundraising efforts by the McMullens.”

Allie Quick, AHN chief philanthropy officer, said the McMullen’s efforts have, among other things, enabled patients to participate in research studies conducted by AHN and Johns Hopkins Medicine.

“They’re phenomenal,” Quick said of the McMullens. “They’re amazing.”

Kyle Bird, director of Research Operations at AHN Research Institute, said in an email that under Krivak, the oncology program has initiated 17 clinical trials focused on new treatments of ovarian, endometrial, cervical, peritoneal, fallopian tube, vulvar, and other rare and complex gynecologic malignancies. So far, more than 70 patients have been treated through the trials.

“While the bulk of our research questions and investigational protocols focus on bringing cutting edge therapy to the forefront of cancer treatment, we have also partnered with industry, government, and academic partners on answering more fundamental questions related to maintaining our patients’ quality of life, fertility preservation amidst cancer treatment, and evaluated the impact of diet and exercise on long-term health outcomes and cancer remission,” said Bird. “The continued support of the McMullens and all golf outing participants will undoubtedly contribute to and advance new treatment paradigms in gynecologic oncology pioneered by the multidisciplinary treatment teams at Allegheny Health Network. We cannot thank them enough for their support.”

When the McMullens first launched the event, it included only the golf outing at Allegheny Country Club. A casino night at their Sewickley Heights home was added to include those who aren’t golfers. Between the two events, nearly 500 people participated this year.

Tracey Hartman, an Allegheny Chapman committee member and Allegheny Country Club employee who helps organize the event, said preparing for the fundraiser takes a lot of time and effort —all of which is worth it.

“We want to help people and bring awareness,” she said.

Julie said she is thankful for the Sewickley community’s support. She said she’s met other survivors and loved ones of those who have been diagnosed.

“We’ve been lucky enough to have amazing friends and family support us,” Julie said. “I would say 50% or more (of participants) are people from our community. They do whatever they can to support us.”