Duo raises awareness about ovarian cancer


Mother-daughter duo Donna Norman and Marsha Norman Strang are definitely on a mission.

For the past six years, the two women have held an annual event to help raise awareness and funds for ovarian cancer. This is the 15th year nationally September has been designated as National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.  The idea for the local fundraiser, which was held earlier this month on Sept. 8, stems from personal tragedy.

“It was Marsha’s idea because she had lost both of her grandmothers, Marie Norman and Ina Williams, to ovarian cancer and that was really upsetting to her,” Donna Norman said. “She didn’t want anyone else to suffer loss like she had so she came up with the idea to raise money for research so that someday they will find a cure.”

Norman, a Mount Pleasant resident, also lost her sister to ovarian cancer when she was only 26. Strang, who lives in Humble just outside of Houston, teamed up with her mother and other local family and friends to start the event which, in years past, has featured a memory walk and Zumba classes in the park. The event’s capstone is an annual auction dinner. Raffle tickets are also sold in order to help raise funds. At this year’s event, the two organizers recognized Mickey and LaDonna Holt for their dedication to the cause. The Holts recently lost their daughter, Jenny, Sept. 2. After burying her just days prior, the Holts were still right there, as they have done in the past, to assist with the auction.

“We just appreciate how your family has always been such a support to our family,” Strang said. “This is a small token, but it is given with love to let you know how much we will also miss Jenny.”

Strang then presented the Holt family with a frame filled with photos of Jenny.

Ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest forms of women’s cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, this year, approximately 22,800 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In 2018, approximately 14,240 women will die in the United States from this disease. Nationally, a woman has a 1 in 75 chance of developing ovarian cancer. It is estimated by the World Health Organization IARC Department that there are over 238,000 new cases diagnosed worldwide annually and nearly 152,000 deaths.

Vowing to do what they can locally, the two ladies spend much of the year preparing for the upcoming year’s event.

“I do all the legwork because I’m here locally in town,” Donna Norman said. “I collect all of the donated items for the auction from businesses family not only in Mount Pleasant, but in Winnsboro, Sulphur Springs, Paris, Naples and all over.”

The event is held each September to coincide with the yearly national awareness observance. After getting things off the ground that first year, Strang, no stranger to promoting community efforts, founded the Real Praying Mothers a year after the first local ovarian cancer fundraiser. The organization brings together nearly 10,000 members representing almost every state in the country. The group of women come together each Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. for a prayer call phone line.  The Real Praying Mothers have also adopted homeless shelters, nursing homes and women’s shelters providing much-needed toiletries and other supplies to those in need. Last year, the group also assisted with Hurricane Harvey efforts.

“I can’t take full credit for The Real Praying Mothers,” Strang said. “It was God who gave me the vision for it. He told me: ‘you are to go back to Houston and start a women’s ministry called The Real Praying Mothers.’ I had no idea how to even get started, but He just kept putting the right people in my path. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself because I think: ‘after everything I’ve done, the Lord is still willing to use me to make things happen. And He has sent me everybody I needed to make this ministry work.”

Norman and Strang see the ovarian cancer effort as a labor of love.

“Until you are personally affected by ovarian cancer like our family has been, you just don’t realize what kind of impact it can have on you,” Strang said. “Because I lost both of my grandmothers, ovarian cancer really hit home for me and I realized this is real. They were both really special to me so I do it for them. I want to help raise money to find a cure in memory of them.”

The event is also held in memory of Wanda Milner who lost her battle to ovarian cancer. Her son, Jason, was an integral part of fundraising efforts until he was tragically killed just hours before the event three years ago.

One key to the event’s success has been receiving support from former NFL player and Mount Pleasant native Chaun Thompson. Last year, Thompson, the son of Margaret King and Choice “Slim” Thompson, threw footballs and talked to local youth. At the dinner, Thompson generously purchased the majority of the auction items often donating them back to attendees in the audience at the Mount Pleasant Civic Center.

“I really enjoy being a part of this each year,” Thompson said. “I feel like it’s a great way for me to give back to the community that gave so much to me. What Marsha and Mrs. Donna are doing is awesome. I have a great time each time I come.”

Among the donated auction items each year are homemade desserts, tools and equipment, household items and much more. Other items such as electronics are also raffled. Participants purchase spaghetti dinners and enjoy a night of fundraising and fun.

“This is really a great cause,” Strang said. “My mother does so much for the community and so I think that’s the reason why the community supports us each year. We were also so thankful to have Chaun be there and be so supportive. He’s already said he will come back next year.”

Next year’s event is already set for Sept. 7, 2019. Both ladies hope to see the event continue to grow year after year.

“When I get frustrated, I have to remind myself that this is bigger than me,” Strang said. “This is about saving lives.”

To participate in the weekly Real Praying Mothers Prayer, call on Wednesday mornings at 7 a.m.(CST) by dialing in to (712) 432-3071 (access code: 210168). For more information on the organization, visit the website at www.realprayingmothers.com or go to their Facebook page: The Real Praying Mothers Ministry.