Turning the Burden of Loss Into the Promise of Change

04/02/2013 03:35 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2013

Sometimes we need to be personally and profoundly affected by something to become advocates for change. For me, the illness and passing of my younger sister, Laura Lia Murray, turned me into a warrior against ovarian cancer.

Like many women with ovarian cancer, Laura showed no symptoms; by the time she had been diagnosed, the disease was already at a late stage. Despite this, I had no doubt that Laura would beat it. She was strong, healthy, and she was in the prime of her life. However, we quickly found out how little these factors matter when dealing with this terrible disease, and despite her courageous fight, she succumbed just two years later. My sister was only 39 years old.

As I walked down the winding road of treatment with Laura, I learned that my sister was not alone. Most women newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer are already in the advanced stages of the disease, because existing diagnostic tools are so limited and routine gynecological exams aren't guaranteed to detect ovarian tumors.

I was shocked to learn that in advanced stages, only a small fraction of women are cured with available treatment options, which is why ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of death among American women and the leading cause of all gynecological cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 22,000 new cases were diagnosed in the United States alone last year and more than 15,000 women died of the disease. Despite these alarming numbers, funding for research is small compared to other cancers. These factors are compounded by the fact the majority of women are not aware of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, and programs to educate women are insufficiently funded.

In the spring of 2011, I joined Laura Mercier cosmetics as President & CEO of its parent company, Gurwitch Products, and I soon discovered that the brand's founder, Laura Mercier, had been deeply affected by ovarian cancer as well. Her dear friend Ranee Flynn had been fighting the disease for years.

As we talked about my sister and Ranee, Laura and I knew that we had to do something to make a difference for all of the other sisters, friends, mothers and aunts who are now and will someday face ovarian cancer.

With the help of our colleagues, we developed a nonprofit mission to raise awareness and fund research and educational efforts that will help diagnose, treat and support women with the disease.

Our mission came to fruition in September 2012, when we launched the Laura Mercier Ovarian Cancer Fund (LMOCF). Since then, our fund has grown significantly thanks to donations from friends, colleagues and our customers who have joined our fight against ovarian cancer. Thanks to these generous gifts, we've been able to give $200,000 to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for ovarian cancer research. We have also partnered with Cancer and Careers (a program of the CEW Foundation, the charitable arm of Cosmetic Executive Women, Inc.) to underwrite a series of educational how-to videos on topics that affect those living with cancer. In addition, we are proud to support the Laura Lia Murray Fund for Ovarian Cancer Research at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Fla., where my sister received compassionate care during every step of her treatment.

These are our first contributions toward a brighter future for ovarian cancer, but there is so much more to do. We must raise awareness about ovarian cancer and educate women about the signs and symptoms of the disease so they can be diagnosed and begin treatment earlier. One way to accomplish this is to join us. To learn more about the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, please click here. To join our fight against ovarian cancer and learn more about the Laura Mercier Ovarian Cancer Fund, please visit: