By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — One has a laser-tight focus on an issue that has affected the health and lives of thousands of women in Western New York and around the world.
The other has volunteered in so many ways for so many groups and agencies in the area that she hesitates to give a list or a number.
But both Niagara County women have done so much as volunteers in Western New York that they’ve been chosen as two of the first five recipients of the Women Who Move the City honor started this year by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County.
Kathleen Maxian of Pendleton and Lindsay Brick of North Tonawanda will be honored at an event Thursday at the Pearl @ The Webb in Buffalo. Alicia Bartsch, director of community relations for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County, said they both stood out from the “overwhelming” amount of nominations solicited from the community for the first awards. From those nominations, a committee selected five honorees.
Nominees didn’t have to be volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters, Bartsch said. The organization started the awards to honor all the women in Western New York who give back to their communities.
“Although we’re Big Brothers Big Sisters, we’ve always had more Big Sisters ... so we have a really great group of women we work with,” she said.
Maxian, who is originally from Lewiston, is the president and co-founder of Western New York Ovarian Cancer Project, which seeks to provide education and resources about the disease.
Her fight began when she was diagnosed with the cancer in 2009 — and branched a bit when she discovered that a genetic test (for breast or ovarian cancer predilection) her sister took after being diagnosed with breast cancer wasn’t as thorough or current as a more up-to-date test that wasn’t made as widely available. (Both tests were developed by Myriad Genetics, a corporation that held a patent on the genes that cause breast cancer.)
That part of Maxian’s fight culminated when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in June that human genes could not be patented — but her fight to educate and help women about the disease continues.
“She went from patient to advocate and she’s done things on the national level,” Bartsch said. “To take something that is personally a devastating diagnosis and turn it into something impacting women throughout the country. Talk about lemonade from lemons. Definitely an amazing woman.”
Just recently, Maxian said, she gathered with other advocate leaders in Washington D.C. while the Supreme Court heard arguments in challenges to part of the Affordable Care Act that requires many employers provide insurance coverage for contraceptives. (Studies have found that women who take oral contraceptives for five or more years cut their risk of developing ovarian cancer by as much as 50 percent.)
“Yesterday, I stood on the steps of the Supreme Court with other women advocates ... and the Supreme Court is a very, very special place for me,” she said. “You don’t often get a unanimous decision from the Supreme Court. It’s surprising how far you can be taken when you begin advocacy work.”
Maxian also spent time with federal legislators talking about funding of ovarian cancer research and awareness. She was just elected to a three-year-term on the National Institute of Health gynecological steering committee, one of two patient advocates.
She’s been cancer-free since “very aggressive surgery” after her cancer reoccurred last year, but her fight to advocate for fellow patients and to make other women aware of the symptoms and dangers of ovarian cancer continues.
“It’s huge. I’m very humbled to be here. I’m very humbled to do this work. I take it very seriously ... because I know I stand on the shoulders of women who’ve gone before me,” Maxian said while sitting at her desk, surrounded by mass cards and obituaries and pictures of those women. “We really are effecting some change. We’ve seen an increase of federal funding, we’ve seen an increase in awareness. But we’re not there yet. Until everyone knows as much about their gynecological health as they should know ... our work isn’t done.”
While Maxian’s focus is on all the varied issues that surround ovarian cancer, fellow honoree Lindsay Brick of North Tonawanda does a little bit of everything.
She’s involved with the Junior League of Buffalo, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of WNY, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Western New York, Ronald McDonald House Charities of WNY and many more, Bartsch said.
“It’s amazing when you look at what it is that she’s doing,” Bartsch said. “She does work full time in education (at the Lancaster school district); she’s a reading specialist and advocate for literacy programs and works with middle-school students. She’s really involved with so many things in the community.”
Of all Brick’s volunteer work, she said the most important to her is Make-A-Wish, for which she serves as a Wish Granter, meeting with families to help figure out what their wish will be.
“I’ve always just had a desire to help others,” Brick said. “It’s just really something I enjoy. Every time I volunteer, I have a blast. I have fun. I meet tons of interesting people. I form new friendships. And I can give back to a community that I love.”
Brick does much of her volunteer work through Junior League of Buffalo, a group of women committed to promoting volunteerism and helping the community.
“I’ve kind of done a little bit of everything. I started volunteering in high school ... I’ve made it a part of my life,” she said. “It just makes you appreciate everything you have.”
Other honorees in the 2014 Women Who Move the City are Mary Lynn Barnhard of Cheektowaga (Wheels with Wings Foundation), Sheila Figel of Buffalo (Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Women’s Association) and Nadia Moore of Buffalo (Amateur Athletic Union, Delevan Grider Moselle Community Center, Puerto Rican Grease Pole Festival and more).
This is just the first group of honorees, said Kara Hite, director of development for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County.
“We hope to have many, many more,” she said, “because there are a lot of very great women in the Western New York community who are doing really great things.”