A Conversation with Julie Ratner

Julie Ratner

By Lindsay Andarakis

Julie Ratner founded the Ellen Hermanson Foundation in 1997 to honor the memory of her sister, who lost her battle to breast cancer. Hermanson was diagnosed when her daughter was only six months old and she passed away when she was 42. Each year, Ellen’s Run raises funds to support the foundation and the Ellen Hermanson Breast Center at Southampton Hospital that provides health services and Ellen’s Well, which promotes psychosocial services for those affected by breast cancer. Ms. Ratner discussed her excitement for this year’s annual event for survivors, families and the community.

Why do you think getting people out to run is a powerful fundraising tool and great for helping others?

I love running. I thought it was one of the greatest things in the world. I started running, I think in 1987, at sort of a difficult time in my life…I enjoyed it because it was beautiful early in the morning, I would run along the East River. I think I did my first marathon in 1987 in London…I also think a lot of people enjoy a run. A 5k is not a huge distance; it’s 3.1 miles, and in terms of the running world, that’s not a huge amount…we wanted it to be for men, women, children and it was a manageable amount. I believe it’s also manageable for women who are in treatment during recovery because we have so many survivors who do it.

In terms of fundraising, when I started this in 1996, I had no idea where it would go. I just thought it would be a great way to draw attention to a cause which is certainly very important to me, which I know affects so many people, and a great way to bring them together…It’s not at a prohibitive price that would exclude anyone, so it can be grassroots and reach out to the community.

A main goal of your foundation is giving people access to comprehensive care and services regardless of financial or insurance status. Have you seen an increase in uninsured or underinsured patients seeking services given the current health care situation in the country?

The Breast Center, I believe, did probably close to 400 mammograms last year for women who were uninsured. I think it is going to be a problem. I think it’s going to be a problem here, especially for people whose status might not be legal, and they’re afraid to access health care. I think what’s very important at the Breast Center is those questions that could be scary and keep people away aren’t asked, and they receive care. This is a very great country; and access to these kinds of services should be a human right here, just like going to school… I believe that my sister would have absolutely believed this. With the little strength she had, she was always available to talk to people, always seeking of herself to encourage and to help them out, even though her own body was failing her.

So, what is the story behind the run?

In 1996, I met a person who became a very good friend. I was telling her about my sister Ellen and she said, ‘your sister sounds like a remarkable woman…you’re a runner, why don’t we do a run? It’d be a great way to honor Ellen’s memory and keep alive the work she did and her daughter would get to know her mother through the run.’ The joke was I had done so many races in Central Park, so I knew how to show up at the starting line to do a race, but I didn’t know how to “run” a race in terms of organizing. I didn’t even know I needed a permit the first year, so it was a steep learning curve.

The little bit that I know and understand about breast cancer, the “shower self check,” is important for prevention. Correct?

Absolutely, I think it’s part of being proactive and being in control of our bodies. It only goes so far. It’s really important to do self-examinations because very often a woman finds a lump herself. I can’t tell you how many women tell me their boyfriends, husbands, partners found the lump for them, and they go to the doctor and have it checked out…Some women just have lumpy breasts, some women have cystic breasts; you need to know that, but then you need to follow up on it. But not every lump ends up being breast cancer; I think that’s an important thing to state. It’s also important to state that if you find that you need to check it out, you can’t just decide for yourself that it’s not going to be breast cancer.

Is there any message you would like to get out there to East End women and families?

I think what I want to say is that, the run is a community event. The money that we make stays here in the community where it does the most good, where we can serve people in this community. It’s a lot of fun, we try to make sure there is breakfast for everyone, T-shirts for everyone, trophies for the first three overall men and women to finish, a lovely gift for the first breast cancer survivor, medals for the top three finishers in every age category. Stop & Shop brings a trailer packed will all kinds of good food they just give away. We have warm up exercises and massages afterwards; it’s really a fun event with something for everyone…The roads are pretty big in Southampton, we can fit a lot of people on the road, so I hope a lot of people will come.

The 22nd Annual Ellen’s Run is on Sunday, August 20 at Southampton Hospital at 9 a.m., rain or shine. For more information or to register, visit ellenhermanson.org or call (212) 840-0916.