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Many people know of the Ellie Fund, the wonderful organization that helps women during their fight against breast cancer so they can focus on their health and spend time with their families. But, not many know the incredible story behind the Massachusetts-based fund.


There is no greater love than the type a mother has for her child. At least, that is the conventional wisdom. And, if you are a mother, you will most likely agree. Some believe the love a mother has for her children is the only true unconditional love. Forgoing sleep to sit aside of a sick child, putting aside personal dreams and goals to help children achieve theirs; this is motherhood. And, for most it is instinctual, and most expect nothing in return.

So, when a child honors his or her mother, it shows us that every sacrifice, all of that work was worth it. Because the goal of teaching our children compassion, generosity, and love was realized.

This is the beautiful story behind the Ellie Fund – two boys honoring their mother.

Eleanor Rose Popkin, or “Ellie” as her friends and family knew her, was a well-loved member of her community. She was a preschool teacher and a librarian; the type of woman who believed in giving back to the community. She volunteered whenever and where ever she could. Despite how active she was in the community, the job to which she was most dedicated was being a mother to her two sons Jeff and Elliot.

Sometime in the late 70’s, Ellie received the news that every woman dreads- she had breast cancer. The year of her original diagnosis is somewhat unclear, as she initially tried to shield her two boys from such scary news. Back then, receiving a breast cancer diagnosis was different than it is today. Treatments weren’t as progressive and access to local breast cancer centers didn’t exist; there weren’t as many opportunities to treat the cancer as there are today.

But, Ellie was a fighter. She had a mastectomy and went through chemo treatments. Her hair eventually fell out. But she kept a positive outlook, she tied a kerchief around her head and stayed in the fight; if not for herself, for her two boys.

When the cancer spread she tried experimental treatments. She stayed brave and during every step she kept looking forward. She wanted to see her sons graduate, and she did.

But, sadly, in 1987 Ellie lost her life to the disease, obviously leaving a huge hole in the hearts of all that knew her. Having inherited her spirit, her two sons wanted to give back to the community and honor their mother at the same time.

So, in the early 90s, the boys decided to run the Boston Marathon for Dana Farber in the name of their mother. It was a hard experience for both brothers, but a rewarding one, and one that got attention.

Jeff during one of his Marathon runs.

Local media heard about the brothers’ heart-felt memorial run for their mother. From there, the plan to honor Ellie really started moving and the brothers realized there was a huge opportunity to do something special. Rather than supporting cancer research, the boys recognized the need to support women living with breast cancer, women just like their mom.

So, they started hosting fundraisers and finding sponsors. In 1995, the brothers officially started The Ellie Fund. Jeff ended up running over ten marathons and also getting involved in the Falmouth Road Race. He tells us that looking back at the start of the fund and seeing what it has become today is surreal.

Jeff Popkin, who is now the Founding Director, is so proud to be able to honor his mother. The values by which he lives today, he gained from her. How he treats people in business and personally is because of what his mother taught him. And that is why he gives back; it is in his DNA.

Founding Director Jeff Popkin

Ellie wasn’t lucky enough to continue through her long struggle with breast cancer. But, through her sons, she still gets to give in a caring and compassionate way. Jeff is so proud that he is able to honor his mother and provide services that are needed from an emotional perspective. The brothers incorporated the Ellie Fund over 20 years ago, today it continues to grow and provide support to the Massachusetts community.

The fund has become so much richer not only in the services it provides, but also in the way it raises money. Last year, the Ellie Fund raised over one million dollars! And besides financial donations, Ellie’s spirit continues, with a good amount of support coming from volunteers; organizations donate meals, volunteers pick up and deliver those meals, businesses offer services. One aspect we love to see is the “pay it forward,” support given from previous recipients. One of the first breast cancer patients to receive services from the Ellie Fund, Anne Meisner, served on the Board of Directors and is now the Patient Services Coordinator!

Even with more diverse fundraising capabilities, including major events that create great visibility for the organization, there is one tradition that reminds Jeff Popkin of the organization’s humble beginnings- The Boston Marathon. So far this year, runners have raised a total of $43,862.00. An impressive amount, and there is still time to give!


Click this link to support Boston Marathon Ellie Fund Runners.


One of those runners, South Boston Restaurateur, Mike Shaw, also knows what it is like to have a mother with breast cancer. Mike’s mother, Susan, had breast cancer when he was in 8th grade. Mike was lucky in the sense that Susan beat the disease, but he still recognizes the courage she had in facing the diagnosis.
 
Just like Ellie did, at first Susan kept her cancer secret from her children, wanting to shield them from the stress and worry that comes from knowing a parent is sick.
 
She powered through her radiation treatments and bounced back quickly. Mike says his mom is, “crazy strong.” A health care worker at Children’s Hospital for 40 years, she was determined not to let cancer define her and change her life’s routine. The strength and will she demonstrated has inspired Mike throughout his life. Just like Ellie did for Jeff, Susan has provided Mike with the inspiration to do good.
 
Enter Hillary Harrelson, a friend of Mike’s and the Director of Development for the Ellie Fund. The two friends bumped into each other one day in a coffee shop and started chatting. Through that meeting Mike learned about the Ellie Fund. With Hillary’s encouragement, he decided to run the Falmouth Road Race to raise money for Ellie.
Mike running the Falmouth Road Race to support the Ellie Fund
Yet, another son running in honor of the strong woman who is his mother. Even more touching is that not only is he running for his mother, but for all of the women (mothers and non-mothers) who the Ellie Fund will help.
 
That experience lead Mike to join the Ellie Fund’s 2017 Boston Marathon Team. Go Mike! He’ll be running along another strong woman, his fiance, who happens to be running for the Martin Richard Foundation.
 
When we asked Mike how he feels about the upcoming race, he told us, “No matter how Marathon Monday goes, it feels like so much has already been accomplished. It’s not just about the money, but about the awareness it creates.”
 
And that is in part the point of this article, creating awareness about a great fund with a huge heart.
 
Mike Shaw saw that huge heart in Hillary and in everyone who is involved in the Ellie Fund, making him passionate about helping the fund in any way he can! He told us the entire process has been eye opening and he will continue to help maximize fundraising efforts.
 
So, what makes the Ellie Fund so special? Besides the peace of mind it offers breast cancer patients across the state, Mike pointed out a key reason why the Ellie Fund is so unique; it was started locally and remains a local charity. If you want to impact your local community, then donate your time and/or money to the Ellie Fund. It helps people with whom we went to school, people with whom we work – the people who live in our communities. It truly does embody the spirit of Eleanor Popkin in getting involved with our community.
 
Toward the end of our conversation, Mike told us he was incredibly proud to be able to run and raise money for the Ellie Fund. We’re pretty sure Susan is proud of her son for being such a great member of his community.
 
We’ve always been big fans of the Ellie Fund, because we’ve witnessed the love and care under which it operates. But, now that we know the story behind the fund; the love of two children for their mother and the spirit of the woman it honors, our love for the Ellie Fund just got a little bigger. We hope it did for you too.

Please consider donating to the Ellie Fund today – https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/1443068 And just like Ellie, remember you can also donate your time. 
Good luck to Mike and the rest of Team Ellie! Way to go guys!
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Comments
  • Sharon hennessy
    Reply

    Thanks for the inspiring, sad, but hopeful story you capture so poignantly, Jess. Of course we will do our part. Garry and Shadon

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