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Annette Mattern: Cancer Survivor Gets The President's Attention

By Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger
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During Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, in September 2010, a teal ribbon was hung in the portico of the White House in recognition of the disease which took the life of President Obama’s mother. The White House recognition, as well as the proclamation signed by President Obama declaring the awareness month, were due in large part to the efforts of cancer survivor and patient advocate Annette Leal Mattern.

Mattern’s devotion to patient advocacy comes from a strong personal desire to give her life greater purpose. She has been an ovarian cancer survivor for more than 23 years and is also a two-year breast cancer survivor. She retired from her position as Vice President of Marketing and Operations for a major telecommunications firm to devote her energies to making a difference in women’s cancers.

Her accomplishments are many. She published a book, Outside the Lines of Love, Life, and Cancer, about coping with cancer and surviving life. She is president of the board of directors of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance and president and co-founder of the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Arizona. She’s also an EmpowHER member and HerWriter, contributing multiple articles on ways women can learn to not just survive cancer, but also live well, advocate for their health and move forward with their lives. She’s a LiveStrong inspirational speaker, sharing her story nationwide to motivate women to live their best life.

Mattern describes her life’s mission as empowering women and finding joy. When she was chosen as president of the board of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance she said she accepted with grave responsibility and great optimism. A strong team player, she said she was encouraged by her colleagues - a board and staff of dedicated professionals who give their time and talents because of a shared belief that one day they will "change the horror that is ovarian cancer."

The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, and the local chapters, provide a place where every aspect of ovarian cancer survivors’ lives comes together. The group works to keep the patient’s voice in the national debate about cancer research; argues for better care and links the community to resources of scientific merit. Another role is alerting patients about choices that may enable a longer, better life. Through a national network of partner members, the advocacy group raises awareness of symptoms that could save other women through earlier diagnosis. Their efforts have been recognized by the White House, Congress, the National Cancer Institute and others.

Ovarian cancer supporters use teal as their color, and welcome others who want to join the “teal army” and provide support. Mattern says, “My own personal journey has allowed me to meet remarkable people, individuals inextricably tied to each other, not because we share a disease, but because all of us have been touched by it. I am inspired by every woman’s story, touched by every family’s pain. I rejoice with each small victory and cry for too many of us taken before our time. It is our cumulative journeys that fuel my passion to make a difference.”


National Ovarian Cancer Alliance:

EmpowHER Ovarian Cancer Community Page:

EmpowHER Ovarian Cancer Resource Page:

Beat Ovarian Cancer Campaign:

Add a Comment3 Comments

Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Thank you for your comments Annette, and for your service and leadership. I've personally seen you with your "army of teal" and observed the incredible spirit, vitality and commitment of these wonderful women. There are also many men who have become part of the movement too and are seeing past their personal grief to help support the need to educate others and support the search for a way to eradicate ovarian cancer.

You are absolutely right - it's the combined efforts of many people who choose to use their time, talents and energies for others who are turning the tide on this and other forms of cancer. One does not have to have had ovarian cancer to join the "army" - all of those who want to help are welcome.

September 20, 2010 - 6:34pm

Thank you, Pat and EmpowHer, for bringing focus to the work of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. I feel compelled to clarify that I am merely one of many women who are working to turn the tide on this deadly disease. None of the work done by the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance is done by one person, but rather by countless volunteers and staff who devote extraordinary efforts to change the world for others. We have begun the Ovarian Cancer Movement.

I am truly honored to be asked to lead the work at this moment in our history, taking the baton from remarkable visionaries who came before me, advancing the cause until I hand it off to those who will follow. Where we are now is the result of years of effort by women and families whose dream of survival arose out of loss. It is the fuel that keeps us moving.

It was the efforts of hundreds of women, each telling her story to Congress or state offices that achieved legislative recognition of ovarian cancer month. It has taken constant collaboration between our Washington, D.C. staff and the White House to secure the Presidential Proclamation and elevate the symbolic support that the First Family can demonstrate by hanging the teal ribbon – a gesture we are still awaiting.

The credit for winning the war goes not to the officers but to the individuals who write the letters and make the calls, who walk in towns across the country in teal tee shirts pinning ribbons on total strangers, who ask neighbors to spread the word that women need not die of this terrible disease.

I am deeply moved by the selfless acts of those who struggle with their health and yet devote time to save others through their efforts. I am humbled by families who have lost their mother or sister or daughter and yet turn their bottomless grief into action to spare other families.

I am only one woman with one voice, hoping that I may encourage and empower others to unite in the greater cause of women’s health.

September 20, 2010 - 4:14pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Annette Leal Mattern)


How do I get some of your energy? You have and are doing such wonderful work in ovarian cancer awareness.

I am working with a great non-profit organization called, "Breast Friends" in Portland, Oregon. Even though they started out as a breast cancer support group, they have recently started branching out into other women's cancers as well. I am their ovarian cancer spokesperson. They also have affiliates in Florida, Michigan and Mississippi, and are always encouraging more cities and individuals to get involved.

We just spent the last weekend at the Komen Health Fair and the Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure in Portland, raising over two million dollars for breast cancer research. We had three booths, and I handed out information for ovarian cancer and talked to many women in mine. I am amazed at how many women know absolutely nothing about ovca, or that Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is in September! I hope to see the day when ovarian cancer gets as much recognition as breast cancer research has received.

Stay strong!


September 22, 2010 - 11:16am
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