HARWICH ─ When Mary Jo Keenan went for medical testing in 2005, it was for something minor, which happened to lead to something major when Keenan was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Now, more than 11 years later, Keenan is lending her support to the annual Dancing for a Cure fundraising event, while soldiering on through her own ongoing treatments.
Like many women, Keenan had no symptoms regarding her ovarian cancer when she went to the doctor for an unrelated issue. Since then Keenan has undergone a full hysterectomy, as well as more surgeries and multiple rounds of chemotherapy, and remains frank about the reality that her cancer will never go away.
“But that's OK because I'm here and I'm feeling good,” she said.
Keenan was inspired to get involved with DFAC since its creator, Susan Mendoza Friedman, is one of her closest friends.
“I feel that if I have this illness, I want to do something to educate people about it and also to raise money and give back somehow,” she said. “If my voice can help do that, then it's great.”
Friedman said that Keenan's input on and work regarding DFAC is significant, especially since she can relate closely with others living with cancer and cancer survivors.
“She's so amazing,” said Friedman. “I'm not a cancer survivor, but know from seeing firsthand through Mary Jo and my friend for whom I started this organization that the bond that you have with others that have gone through or are going through cancer treatment cannot be duplicated with somebody who doesn't.”
Friedman started Dancing for a Cure in honor of another dear friend, Karen Schek, who lived with stage III ovarian cancer for some time until her death in 2012. Inspired by Schek and several women involved with her former dance studio, Friedman held the first DFAC event in 2006. Since then the annual dance marathons have raised more than $325,000 toward research.
“We get to select the projects and researchers specifically at Dana Farber,” Friedman said. “They feel like we have really helped them significantly in their work.”
The event brings together dancers from schools and programs on and off-Cape, with special performances, commemorative T-shirts, raffles, and more. Raising awareness is a key part of the event.
Keenan said her involvement in DFAC eases the isolation she feels on occasion.
“Having cancer for me, on a daily basis can be very isolating,” she said. “When you're the one with it, a lot of fears kick in. You have good days and bad days dealing with the emotional roller-coaster, so when you come across a group like Dancing for a Cure who are all about 'you can do this' it's very uplifting and it makes you feel less isolated. It helps me to be involved because I feel that I'm making use of the experience that I have. It somehow validates my own journey with this by being able to share it with others. It takes me outside of myself and my own worries, and looks to a bigger picture for me.”
“Mary Jo helps us in so many ways,” said Friedman. “She is living proof of the reason we do what we do.”
The Dancing for a Cure Dance Marathon will be held Feb. 4 from 5 to 9 p.m. at Mashpee High School, 500 Old Barnstable Rd., Mashpee. Admission is $20, with discounts for families. For more information call 508-367-4531 or visit www.dancingforacure.net.