Markey Women Strong philanthropy program empowers women-led cancer research

Above from left to right: Markey Women Strong member Katie Alford; MWS Distinguished Researcher Rina Plattner, PhD; MWS member Josefine Young; MWS Distinguished Researcher Kathleen O’Connor, PhD; and MWS founder Lois Reynolds discuss the work being done by women researchers at the UK Markey Cancer Center.

“Stronger together” is a motto that inspires many aspects of Lois Reynolds’ life.

From her approach to her family and friendships to her involvement with the UK Markey Cancer Foundation as a board member, she has long understood the impact that can be made when a group of people rally around a mission.

Reynolds’ first introduction to cancer came when she was 24, when her uncle was diagnosed with melanoma despite not showing any of the disease’s typical symptoms. Within six months of the diagnosis, he was gone. Since then, Reynolds has lost other close friends and family members to cancer, including her own mother. She has even faced her own recurring battle with skin cancer.

Reynolds knows that cancer affects nearly everyone in some way, and her experience with it has fueled her desire to make a real difference in the fight against the disease.

She decided she wanted to make a meaningful and lasting contribution to the UK Markey Cancer Foundation in a way that also created passionate ambassadors for the research and clinical work being done at the UK Markey Cancer Center.

With that goal in mind, Markey Women Strong was formed in 2017.

Hope Through Research

Reynolds first discussed the idea for Markey Women Strong, or MWS, with UK Markey Cancer Foundation President and CEO Michael Delzotti.

“We talked about the many emotions, including anger, grief and frustration, that surround a cancer diagnosis, regardless of whether it is oneself or a family member, and about the empowerment that comes with knowing you are taking an active part in something bigger than yourself,” Delzotti said. “I was reminded of something lauded Markey hematology and oncology specialist Dr. Ed Romond once said: ‘The best hope a cancer patient has is good research.’”

To encourage and promote such cancer research, each member of MWS commits to making an annual gift of $1,000. Together, the group listens to presentations by female researchers carrying out research at Markey. The group then votes to select which research projects to fund with the pooled contributions.

“Women in philanthropy supporting the work of female researchers was most appealing to our core group when starting MWS,” Reynolds said.

In its inaugural year, the members of MWS awarded two $50,000 Distinguished Research grants to Kathleen O’Connor, PhD, for her research on triple-negative breast cancer, and to Rina Plattner, PhD, whose research focuses on melanoma metastasis and therapeutic resistance.

“We had a great first year for Markey Women Strong, and I am very proud of that, but my goals for this project are much bigger,” Reynolds said. “I would like for 100 of my friends to donate $1,000 each, then I would like them to get 100 of their friends to donate $1,000 each and watch it continue to multiply. Each of us knows how uniquely cancer has affected us, and I want them to be an active participant in ensuring their donation makes a difference.”

Creating More Stories of Survivorship

Throughout the year, the UK Markey Cancer Foundation, which manages the MWS fund, hosted a lecture series for MWS members featuring updates and scientific advancements that are being made as a result of the group’s funding. Each salonstyle event also features a testimonial from a cancer survivor.

Reynolds said the presentations are an emotional reminder of the positive work the group is supporting in the fight against cancer.

“At our first MWS lecture, 24-year-old Reilly Butler gave us a very authentic and moving account of her journey through brain cancer diagnosis and treatment,” Reynolds said. “Afterward, Dr. John D’Orazio explained that we are funding research that will create more stories of hope and survivorship like Reilly’s. It is profoundly empowering to know we are playing an active role in the process and to truly understand the difference we are making with our contributions.”

To learn more about Markey Women Strong or to become a member, visit its website or contact Amy Morgan at