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Trailblazer Helen Moss founded Breast Cancer Foundation

Trailblazer Helen Moss founded Breast Cancer Foundation

By KATHRYN RIDDLE


When she was five years old, Helen Moss ran away to school; of course, she was sent home.

That spirit of independence and resolve was the first indication of Helen’s innate strength and conviction to pursue what she wanted. As early as elementary school, Helen’s sense of justice prevailed over her deep desire to be popular among her peers. Born and raised in Akron, Helen was exceptionally bright, receiving an award in eighth grade for academic achievement and leadership, and as a high school freshman was offered a Ford Foundation scholarship to the University of Chicago. Her parents would not allow her to go, and the following year, the family doctor told Helen, contemplating a career as a physician, that she would never get into medical school because she was a woman.

The year following her high school graduation as class Valedictorian, Helen married and subsequently had four children whom she determined would not be denied the opportunity to go to college. In spite of having young children, Helen at the age of 29 took advantage of a new student loan program to pursue her college studies at the University of Akron, graduating Summa Cum Laude and first in her class. Within a year, Helen was divorced, raising her daughter and three sons alone and, actively supporting political candidates in favor of women’s rights, she founded the Akron Chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Helen had a dread fear of being poor, having grown up in a blue-collar family, and vowing not to marry until her youngest child had finished college, took her mother’s advice and tried to become a stock broker. No women allowed then, so she worked with the Teamster’s Union while attending law school at night until Merrill Lynch lost a discrimination suit. Although it was not easy, Helen was hired by Merrill Lynch and within a year, opened the Teamster Central States Pension Fund in Chicago, at that time the largest account in the government securities business. In 1983, Helen became a vice president of the firm, for which she still works today along with her son John.

When Helen’s youngest child was graduated from college in 1987, she married Cleveland architect Richard Fleischman, with the couple making their home in Bratenahl in an historic home called Breezy Bluff, once owned by the distinguished physician, Dr. Henry Cushing. In 1998, Helen’s mother, the late Frances Smith, came to live with Helen and Richard until her death just last year from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

In July 2000, Helen was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, and while most people would retreat, focusing only upon themselves and what might surely be the end, before she even left the hospital, she founded her eponymous Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Speaking publicly about her decision, Helen has said that while she has been blessed with the resources, financially and otherwise, to pursue courses of mainstream as well as alternative medical treatments, the vast majority of people do not. Merrill Lynch helped her set up the Foundation, whose mission is “to nurture and educate a community of healers in Northeastern Ohio to treating [patients of every socio-economic status] in a holistic fashion including the integration of comprehensive and alternative cancer care with mainstream treatments.”

“When you step out and make yourself public,” said Helen, “you want people to understand that it doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old, rich or poor.”

Knowing that she would lose her hair, Helen’s approach to that was to take control, having her head shaved while surrounded by her closest friends. “I was very ill, although surgery probably saved my life, high-dose chemotherapy, a bone-marrow transplant and radiation nearly killed me,” said Helen. “All the cards and flowers I received were like food to a starving person. I accepted the love, prayers and beauty.”

“Three months after my diagnosis and still having chemo, I had the first of the annual teas to raise awareness and funds for the Foundation,” said Helen. “I sought guidance from a holistic doctor, embarking on a regimen of vitamin supplementation, exercise and a healthy diet that I continue to follow.”

Seeking more information, Helen traveled the world from Washington, D.C. to Bangalore, India where at the International Conference on Holistic Medicine she met Deepak Chopra, who she was determined to bring to Cleveland and did in 2004. In addition, such distinguished cancer specialists as Dr. Susan Bauer-Wu of the Harvard Medical School Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Dr. Barrie Cassileth of Memorial Sloan-Kettering and the late Dr Judah Folkman who pioneered angiogenesis treatment of cancer, have presented programs at Helen’s annual events.

This past December at her event, Helen shared two significant achievements, presenting on behalf of the Foundation a $50,000 check to fulfill its $100,000 pledge made a year ago to establish a Lectureship in Integrative Medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The second announcement was that Helen has been appointed the first Patient Advocate board member of the Society for Integrative Oncology and as such will be attending the Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public to be held in Washington, D.C. at the end of this month.

“I want the Foundation to keep on going after I am gone,” said Helen. “Freedom to fulfill your potential as a human being is all you can ask for in this life.”

Helen Moss has done that and more, through her own incredible and inspirational life.

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