our founder patricia franchi flaherty 1955–2008
In 1974, the loss of Patty’s mother Madeline to ovarian cancer was a pivotal event that changed the course of her life. Her mother’s death, coupled with Patty’s own ovarian cancer battle 25 years afterward, created the impetus for what would become Patty’s greatest and most defining achievement and which continues to have a positive impact on thousands of women facing ovarian cancer today.
After graduating from Bentley College, Patty enjoyed backpacking through Europe and parts of the Middle East before joining Franchi Management Company, Inc., where she worked as General Manager for over 30 years. Patty was also a trustee at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the founder of Ovations for the Cure of Ovarian Cancer.
In 1992, Patty married Paul Flaherty, a commercial plumbing contractor from Natick. Together, they often spent their free time taking their two dogs, Paris and Hilton, on weekend excursions to their getaway home along Maine’s Long Lake.
However, in February of 1999, Patty was diagnosed with Stage IIIc ovarian cancer, the same disease that claimed her mother’s life decades earlier. Surgery and chemotherapy treatments brought Patty into a remission that lasted 5 years—a critical milestone for a number of reasons. “Not a lot of survivors make it past the 5-year marker,” Patty once said. “And when they do, [most] don’t want to get out and talk about ovarian cancer, they just want to spend time with their families and friends. The sad fact is that ovarian cancer patients don’t live long enough to advocate for their disease.”
Patty wasn’t like most survivors. She constantly reached out to other women within the ovarian cancer sisterhood. Even when acknowledging the heartrending personal stories shared with her and empathizing as only a comrade could, Patty always considered herself luckier than most.
But when cancer struck again, she wasn’t about to sit still. Determined to be victorious—not just for herself, but for others as well—Patty and 10 intrepid girlfriends embarked on a mission to “save other women from the devastation of ovarian cancer.” This time, Patty fought back using the very things she knew and loved: fashion, shoes and camaraderie.
Her first fundraising effort to benefit ovarian cancer research, the Stuart Weitzman Fashion Show and Luncheon in 2006, showcased her incomparable style and fashion sense. Proceeds from the show helped fund the Madeline Franchi Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, in honor of Patty’s mother, at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The overwhelming success of the fundraiser provided the motivation Patty needed to launch Ovations for the Cure of Ovarian Cancer, a non-profit organization to raise disease awareness and funding for ovarian cancer research, to advocate for new diagnostic testing and treatment options, to provide moral support for ovarian cancer patients and families, and ultimately, to find a cure for ovarian cancer.
Patty felt that it was essential to create patient wellness programs that would build disease awareness, bolster patient morale and inspire cause for hope. With Ovations as a vehicle, she was able to provide critical information and resources not previously available to women facing ovarian cancer. The hundreds of thousands of patient education brochures Ovations sent to OB/GYN offices in the northeast were so well received that the program is still expanding its territory and receives frequent restocking requests.
Patty also initiated “Learning for Living with Ovarian Cancer,” the first symposium of its kind to educate and update ovarian cancer patients and survivors—at no cost to them—on the latest ovarian cancer research, treatments and therapies. Patients who attended the symposium said that it “was wonderful to be with other survivors and women who have such drive and spirit for a cure and new therapies.” One survivor added, “The symposium is a great way to learn and share information so that we can educate others.” Most attending the forum were impressed with the heartfelt concern and dedication of the presenting researchers and the Ovations staff.
Through the natural extension of Patty’s voracious appetite for très chic footwear, she created the uplifting “Happy Feet” program, giving Stuart Weitzman jelly slip-ons to patients undergoing ovarian cancer treatment. From 2006 to 2010, the program provided more than 3,500 women with Happy Feet shoes. The shoes were a rousing success! Many of the recipients have written touching letters of gratitude and have included photographs of themselves wearing the shoes, both during treatment and beyond.
Through Ovations, Patty also helped bring about the creation and funding of several ovarian cancer research funds at renowned medical facilities nationwide, including Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital; City of Hope Cancer Center in Los Angeles; and Philadelphia’s University of Pennsylvania. Even the research physicians who treated Patty during the worst of her disease now receive support for their ongoing studies and programs. Had these doctors and Patty never crossed paths, their combined efforts might not have come to fruition. For example, Dr. Marsha Moses is investigating a urine test that would provide a means of early detection for ovarian cancer. Dr. Mariana Castells has created an alternative medicine program—of which Patty herself was one of the longest living survivors—that desensitizes patients’ allergies to chemotherapy. Dr. Ursula Matulonis is using mapping of familial gene pools to detect proclivities toward cancer. Collaboratively, the doctors and Patty’s Ovations are helping to prolong the lives of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, to find ways of catching ovarian cancer before it becomes a threat, and ultimately, to find a cure.
As a trustee at DFCI and the founder of Ovations for the Cure of Ovarian Cancer, and through her own generous donations, Patty has helped give women facing ovarian cancer a fighting chance. That was an important goal for her. Even now in this time of sorrow, the hope Patty inspired in so many people lives on, as does her mission to help women defeat ovarian cancer.
On August 18, 2008, Patty's nine-year battle with ovarian cancer came to a close. Those who knew Patty are forever changed by her passion for life and her indomitable courage. To have been in her presence is to have seen her unconquerable energy in action. Some will recall that, despite her many surgeries, she refused pain medication to the last. Others will remember the times she checked herself out of the hospital to be a guest speaker for her cause; or that, in the weeks before her death, she hosted a farewell sleepover with girlfriends she’d known since childhood.
At Patty’s bequest, Ovations will continue the relentless pursuit of a cure for ovarian cancer, raising money to support and increase its many programs and endowments; fueled by her tireless passion and zeal for her cause. As we take the torch from her hand, may we also inherit a fraction of her bravery, her perseverance and her triumphant and tireless spirit. May she find true rest in knowing that she taught us well how to carry on.
“But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, All losses are restored and sorrows end.”
–from Sonnet 30, by William Shakespeare