A Sparkle of Hope for Gynecologic Cancers

Electricity filled the air, sparking excitement and anticipation as I approached the registration table at the Monona Terrace. The time had finally arrived to get our sparkle on for Sparkle of Hope, a special evening celebrating women touched by gynecologic cancers.

I received my nametag and registered my credit card to place bids for the silent auction. Several large jars of coins had been plunked on the table, coins collected for the year to Make a Change for Sparkle of Hope research and gynecologic projects at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center.

Cocktails and Diamonds

Live music performed by the Mad City Trio beckoned me to the windows overlooking Lake Monona. I mingled with guests in cocktail attire, including other ovarian cancer survivors. Our eyes lingered over the items donated for the silent auction. Easels boasted poster size photos of a diamond necklace as well as a square cut emerald. The silent auction held other attractions: jewelry, knitted baby gifts, food baskets and wine. The auction would not be complete without Wisconsin Badger memorabilia: game tickets, Badger chairs and autographed footballs.

I stopped at a painting featuring the iconic table and chair sets dispersed across the Memorial Union Terrace overlooking Lake Mendota. The vibrant greens, reds and yellows provided a lovely contrast to the deep blue lake dotted with sailboats.

“What a beautiful painting!” I said to the stranger who seemed to be admiring the painting as well.

“I painted it,” she replied.

I didn’t know what to say, or maybe I had already said it.

I strolled over to a table with rows of gold gift bags—the Diamond Dig. Tissue paper peeked over the top of the bags, hiding their treasures, but only one of these bags contained the coveted diamond necklace. I purchased my chance. Would I be the winner this year?

As I passed the Diamond Dig, I spotted a sign, “Punch Out Cancer.” Buy a chance, make a fist, punch a hole and retrieve your gift. Prizes varied from a free scoop of ice cream to $100 gift cards. My last punch yielded a McDonalds coupon.

I wanted to raise awareness for Sparkle of Hope, so along with Stephanie Herfel, I shot a Facebook live video. Stephanie is an ovarian cancer survivor, a member of the Sparkle of Hope committee and one of our featured speakers. Stephanie sparkled in her teal evening gown as she shared how her huskie, Sierra, sniffed out her cancer before the doctors diagnosed it.

The lights flickered, summoning us to the banquet room. I joined other ovarian cancer survivors as guests at a table sponsored by the Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance which included the organization’s directors. A pumpkin overflowing with peach colored roses, yellow tea roses and fall leaves graced the center of our table. We slipped our secret bids into a gold envelope which would determine the fate of the centerpieces at the end of the evening.

Journey of Hope

Eric Franke, our emcee from channel 3000, opened the program. Defying social etiquette, he endorsed the use of cell phones during dinner. Throughout the evening, we grabbed our phones and continued to bid on the silent auction items.

After dinner, the program began with a video highlighting the faculty and staff of dedicated researchers. As grateful patients shared their stories, they encouraged the doctors, reminding them of how important their research is in prolonging the lives of women with gynecologic cancers. The University of Wisconsin ranks thirteenth in the nation for gynecology. Sparkle of Hope dollars allow junior researchers to start projects that may lead to national grants.


Dr. Lisa Barroilhet shared how the last three years have yielded exciting strides in the field of ovarian cancer research with the introduction of PARP inhibitors, a type of targeted therapy. PARP inhibitors attack the cancer cells without harming normal cells. Even though they are still classified as chemotherapy, they are taken orally, allowing women to live fairly normal lives at home. For some women, these drugs have stabilized their ovarian cancer. For others, the tumors have shrunk to the point that there is no evidence of disease.

Diamond Revealed

The time had come to reveal the results of the Diamond Dig. We held up our tickets while volunteers clutching the gold bags weaved in and out among the tables, exchanging our tickets for a bag. Once all the bags were distributed, we simultaneously yanked out the tissue paper. Where is the diamond necklace? From the other side of the room, a cry rings out—the diamond! The rest of us console ourselves with the gourmet chocolates tucked in our bags.

Lively Auction

Spotters scattered throughout the ballroom in preparation for the live auction. Let the bidding begin: a Madison adventure package featuring a premier suite and a private flight over Madison, a diamond earring and bracelet set, custom diamond drop earrings, a Camp Randall VIP package including football tickets and a guest conductor spot with the UW marching band, or Cheering for Charity—a private party with the UW basketball coach and his wife at their home during a Badger football away game.

Fervent Finale

Stephanie closed the evening sharing the photos and stories of other ovarian cancer survivors as well as the latest chapter of her story. Last year, Stephanie had a recurrence and started the PARP targeted therapy. Today she has no evidence of disease. This past summer, Stephanie also got married. At the suggestion of a friend, instead of clinking glasses, the wedding guests dropped money in a kissing jar, raising $700 for Sparkle of Hope.

The call for last minute donations initiated a flurry of cell phone activity. Names of donors along with dollar amounts flashed across the screens to reach the goal of $150,000.

Thank you to our generous sponsors and donors who made Sparkle of Hope possible. Total dollars raised? $168,000!

Happy 10th anniversary, Sparkle of Hope!

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