In June 2016, Cathy Seabaugh's sister, Shelia Hager, passed away after spending many years battling breast cancer.
Hager was first diagnosed in 1999. She inspired her sister to form her own organization, A Sister's Hope, to raise money for breast cancer research and awareness through events such as walks, runs and golf tournaments.
"Friends who worked for other charities asked why I just didn't raise money for other charities," Seabaugh recalled. "I felt I was putting my name and reputation on the line by asking people to donate. My reputation is attached to that, and if I can't tell people and companies that donated exactly where and when that money [was disbursed], I don't feel comfortable."
She describes the organization as a "lean, mean machine" with a small staff. "We don't waste money and we don't waste time. People who have breast cancer don't have time," she added.
Seabaugh said that, when women are diagnosed with breast cancer, it remains difficult for them to know what treatments or clinical trials are available to them. "Everyone wants to believe that their doctor is the best doctor," she added. "When you are going to someone and you have a good feeling about them, you want to believe that they know everything about your disease. …A lot of women might not be able to get information beneficial to them. I don't say that to put down any doctorsit's just every doctor doesn't know everything about every breast cancer. It's impossible. There needs to be a way for women to find out about their breast cancer and how it's being treated, whether it's around the world or their state."
A Sister's Hope has a larger footprint in the Netherlands than it does in America. "We've given researchers more than $6 million over the last nine years," Seabaugh explained, noting that about $200,000 was raised in the U.S. while the rest was in Netherlands. "But Dutch researchers work closely with U.S. researchers, as well as German researchers, so when you're talking about scientific research to find a cure for cancer, if you are just going to be working with people in the U.S., you're narrowing your chance of success."
It was "just kind of fate" that led to A Sister's Hope's close connection with the Netherlands, she added. Just as Seabaugh was getting the organization established as a nonprofit in 2006, Seabaugh, a key staffer on Chicago's Gay Games VII organization that year, met a Gay Games participant from the Netherlands, Martje Hoekmeijer, who organized special events.
"She said, 'We don't have stuff like that in the Netherlands." I said, 'Really?'" recalled Seabaugh.
They first met with Dutch researchers to determine whether there was an actual need for the fundraising. "They get about 25 percent of the funding they need from governmental sources, and are looking elsewhere for the rest of their funding," she said. "From that point in 2006, we got busy putting together the first 60K walk, the two-day walk, in the Netherlands."
The projects have been in service of filling a "definite void" in the Netherlands, especially contributing to research that was in its early stages. "The funding here usually goes to research that has reached a certain stage of development," Seabaugh noted. "As the researchers explained to me, 'How are we supposed to fund our research to get it to that level?' A Sister's Hope really filled that void."
The U.S. arm of A Sister's Hope has no paid staff or office, so 100 percent of its contributions go to research. Overhead there is underwritten by a lesbian-owned company, A&N Mortgage Services. In the Netherlands, A Sister's Hope averages over 75 percent of proceeds going to research; it has two paid staffers there.
"That's another reason I started my own organization," said Seabaugh. "I don't agree with how a lot of charities are run."
She wants to work on holding more events in rural areas, she added. "The more people you can get involved, the more money can be raised. … Other people have started having events in small towns benefitting A Sister's Hope and that accomplishes the same goal."
Since her sister's death, Seabaugh plans "on doing thing the way I want them done," she said. "I'm going to be a little more outspoken about other charities pissing away money and less worried about being politically correct."
She is also in the early planning stages for a new Chicago event.
"I want to get people physically and mentally active in the battle against breast cancer, and in doing so, they personally become healthier and stronger," Seabaugh said. "A Sister's Hope events can be a trampoline or a diving board, some form of launch for people to push themselves in new directions, all while raising vital funding for breast cancer research. A cure will arrive too late for my sister, but I am continuing in the hopes I can help save others."
For information, visit ASistersHope.org .