Help West Orange break the silence on ovarian cancer

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — West Orange residents and supporters from towns in the surrounding area will come together Sunday, Sept. 24, for the 27th annual Mayor’s 5K Run to Break the Silence. The charity walking and running event, which is run by the Downtown West Orange Alliance and supports the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. The event has been going strong in West Orange for decades and was originally known as the “Downtown Classic,” but was changed to support the NOCC in 2007.

The event is held to honor the memory of Maureen Roehnelt, a longtime aide to New Jersey state Sen. and former Gov. Richard Codey; Roehnelt died from ovarian cancer in 2006.

“I used to come and volunteer every year, but I didn’t know until a few years ago how dangerous ovarian cancer is,” DWOA Executive Director Megan Brill, an event organizer, told the West Orange Chronicle in an Aug. 31 phone interview. “You often don’t learn that you have it until it’s at stage III or IV, and the survival rate is low.”

When ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated in its earliest stages, it has a five-year survival rate of more than 90 percent, according to the NOCC website. However, since ovarian cancer lacks specific symptoms and an early detection test, only approximately 20 percent of all cases are found in stages I and II. When ovarian cancer is discovered in stage III or IV, the survival rate drops to as low as 28 percent. According to the NOCC, all this combines to make the disease one of the more deadly forms of the cancer.

As such, since the 5K began to raise money to end ovarian cancer, the event has grown exponentially, according to Brill.

“When we got involved with the NOCC there would be about 300 people at the run for downtown support, but over the last 10 years it’s grown to about 1,000 people walking and running,” she said.

There are currently 40 teams signed up for the walk, just shy of the event’s goal of 50 teams. The fundraising goal this year is $100,000.

“Some teams only have a few people on them; other people have their whole families on a team. There are some that have 75 people,” Brill said.

Brill said the awareness element of the walk is equally as important as the fundraising for it.

“A lot of people know about the pink ribbons for breast cancer, but many folks don’t know what the teal ribbons stand for. The difference is night and day,” she said. “It’s a moving experience, and the emotional side is touching to see.”

West Orange resident Shari-Beth Susskind, an ovarian cancer survivor, helps organize the event each year.

“I reached out because I wanted to do something with the NOCC,” Susskind told the Chronicle in a phone interview on Sept. 1. “Each year it’s been building up.”

Susskind also beat breast cancer two years ago, and has been free of ovarian cancer for the last 12 years. Her goal every year is to raise both awareness and money for the cause.

“It’s raising awareness for ovarian cancer,” she said. “People come from West Orange and Livingston and a lot of other places and I have my own team. We like to beat our own record every year.”

West Orange town Councilman Jerry Guarino, who serves as the DWOA liaison, has been supporting the 5K since before he was on the Township Council.

“It’s one of the most important events we have,” he told the Chronicle in a phone interview on Sept. 1. “We care about our residents, and it’s important to get people to be involved and fundraise.”

Guarino stressed the importance of being involved even if residents are not on a team.

“If you don’t want to walk or you don’t want to run, you can still get involved,” he said. “Go that day and volunteer to help set up or clean up. You can still show support.”

Despite the hardships that come with suffering from ovarian cancer, Susskind said that the day of the fundraiser is a celebratory one.

“There’s a lot of energy and a lot of hope,” she said. “It’s just a fun day. It’s high energy, and a win-win.”

To register for the Mayor’s 5K Run to Break the Silence, visit A fee is charged to participate. Participants may also register for a higher fee the same day of the race on the lawn of the West Orange Municipal Building at 66 Main St., beginning at 8 a.m. The race begins at 10 a.m.

Photos Courtesy of Buzz1441