Inspirational Woman Interview: Audra Moran

Audra Moran is the President & CEO of Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance, the largest global charity for ovarian cancer research and advocacy. Under Audra’s leadership, OCRFA has awarded the most research funding in its history, and has passed the $100 million mark in funds raised. Audra also developed the national expansion of a support program for women undergoing treatment for gynecologic cancers, Woman to Woman, and secured a $1 million corporate sponsorship to ensure its success. In 2015, Audra oversaw the merger of Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF) with another national nonprofit, Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA). She previously served as a Rehabilitation Counselor at the Helen Keller Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults and the Vice President of Development and Scientific Affairs at the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. She holds a M.A. in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of South Florida.

How did your career as a Rehabilitation Counselor at the Helen Keller Center influence your interest in medical research grant-making?

Audra Moran: Fresh out of graduate school, I moved to NY and found a job as a rehabilitation counselor working with deaf-blind people at Helen Keller National Center (HKNC).  With only a passing knowledge of the sign language alphabet, I immersed myself in learning ASL.  I can honestly say the time I spent working there, providing counseling, as well as nationally developing jobs and supports to facilitate independent living was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  After seven years, I felt ready for new challenges, and having been trained with a focus on mental health, I moved to the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD, now called the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation).  My time at HKNC taught me that immersing myself in something I knew very little about made it possible (and less scary!) to tackle another unknown topic–in this case, medical research.

How did you come to join the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance and what are some initiatives you have implemented as CEO?

Audra Moran: I loved my time at NARSAD, and under the mentorship of some amazing people, truly learned the value of medical research.  Quite simply, it is the only way we will stop diseases.  After 11 wonderful years, I felt it was time to lead my own organization, and Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance (then OCRF now OCRFA) provided the perfect opportunity—women’s health, something I felt strongly about, coupled with medical research.

Over my seven years at OCRFA, the organization has grown significantly.  I identified and expanded a peer support program for women with gynecologic cancer, Woman to Woman, and secured $1,000,000 in corporate funding to take it national; acquired another organization, Ovarian Cycle, and transformed it into one of our signature events with spinning events across the country; and most recently, oversaw our merger with another national nonprofit, Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA), in 2016, to form what is now the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance (OCRFA).  All of these changes have solidified OCRFA’s place as the largest  ovarian cancer research, advocacy and patient support organization in the world focusing on ovarian cancer.

Can you tell us about OCRFA’s Woman to Woman program that supports women undergoing treatment for gynecologic cancers?

Audra Moran: Woman to Woman (W2W) has a special place in my heart.  When I first began, OCRFA was supporting a small program at Mt. Sinai in NYC that matched women undergoing treatment for gynecologic cancer with other women who had had the same disease, to provide comfort, support and to answer questions no one else might be able to or even understand.  Meeting with their amazing coordinator, I exclaimed that this was exactly what was needed in so many other places around the country, especially cities with fewer healthcare resources.  Shortly after we expanded W2W to another NYC location and then secured $1 million in support to make it a national program.  Today, W2W is in 37 hospitals or community centers around the country.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges in researching and treating ovarian cancer?

Audra Moran: Despite years of research, so much about ovarian cancer is still not well understood.  Research has revealed that there are many different types of ovarian cancer, which behave in different ways.  It was only recently (in research years) discovered that at least some ovarian cancers start in the Fallopian tubes before spreading.  Symptoms which can often be confused with many other things may not appear until the later stages, and coupled with a high recurrence rate make this disease difficult to identify, treat, and prevent.

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you?

Audra Moran: I previously mentioned mentors that guided me in the early stages of my career—one of the most impactful was Constance E. Lieber (Connie).  She and her husband were the main benefactors and driving force of my previous organization, and built their lives around finding a cure for mental illness.  Her passion and commitment to the cause, initially fueled by her daughter’s schizophrenia diagnosis, but sustained by her incredible philanthropic spirit and quest for knowledge, taught me many things—the value of medical research in curing diseases, the necessity of understanding and addressing roadblocks/problems impeding progress, and the need to confront the fear, uncertainty, and stigma surrounding many diagnoses/diseases.

What advice do you have for individuals interested in cancer research?

Audra Moran: For those interested in cancer research, it’s likely important that the person understand their motivations and limitations.  For example, a person with an aptitude for science and math with a natural curiosity and an interest in cancer research might pursue a career as a research scientist, while others might prefer a more clinical role, interacting with patients.  For those interested because they, a family member, or a friend have been impacted by cancer, I encourage them to do some online research to identify the top nonprofits supporting the research in that respective field and talk with them about the current trends and research directions.  Medical research can be overwhelming, and determining the importance or significance of particular studies is difficult; organizations supporting the research spend a lot of time thinking and talking about these things and can likely provide guidance.  The National Cancer Institute also offers excellent, up-to-date information.

What are your favorite books, websites, films, and/or resources?

Audra Moran: Some random favorite books in no particular order—Interpreter of Maladies (a collection of short stories), Backlash: the Undeclared War Against American Women, The Year of Magical Thinking, The House of Mirth, and I’m currently reading a biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg  and A Series of Unfortunate Events (with my 11-year old son). I love my customized Flipboard for articles, as well as the NY Times app, and use snopes, nih.gov, and pubmed for fact-checking and resource information.  For fun, I love Words with Friends and Ruzzle, and enjoy scouring craigslist for finds for our 1875 Victorian home, as well as Pinterest and Houzz for design inspiration.  Some favorite films include Rushmore, Audrey Hepburn movies, Princess Bride and all the Pixars (perhaps more than my son!).

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