Cancer Crusader Jennifer McGrath Talks Fish For A Cure Fundraiser And How Her Sister’s Diagnosis Changed Her Life Forever
As the executive director of two local charities, Jennifer McGrath has made it her mission to help those battling breast and ovarian cancer.
All manner of pink pervades the office of Bluewater Babes in Jupiter. From baby to bubble gum to coral, the color synonymous with breast cancer awareness appears on balloons, banners, party favors and table settings. All of it awaits deployment to this month’s Fish for a Cure fundraiser.
Jennifer McGrath, executive director of the non-profit known for its all-female fishing tournament and the crazy contests that go along with it, arrives at the office in a long-sleeve Bluewater Babes T-shirt sporting the symbolic pink shade. The non-profit raises money for local breast and ovarian cancer patients in financial need.
The 48-year-old, who has the BRCA1 gene, starts explaining how the annual charity event helps those facing dreaded diagnoses and uncertain futures. “The reason I do this tournament is I see the effect that we make in women who are going through breast or ovarian cancer,” McGrath says. “It’s an ‘aha’ moment for me.”
Now a mother of two, she decided to take matters into her own hands to escape the breast cancer diagnosis her sister received at age 34. “I realized that was going to be me,” McGrath says of her sister, Elizabeth Rielly, who is now 50 and cancer-free. “There was no question in my mind I was going to get it.”
So McGrath underwent a double mastectomy at the same age her sister received the diagnosis, and a hysterectomy four years later. She continues to make twice-a-year visits to her oncologist for follow-ups.
She sees herself in the eyes of some of the tournament’s participants–mothers, sisters and wives each facing the fear of breast and ovarian cancer.
“Because of my family, because of my history, I’ve found what my purpose in my life is,” McGrath says. “Bluewater Babes is my passion. I hope it’s going to be my legacy.”
Fish for a Cure kicks off Oct. 2 with a captain’s party complete with cocktail and costume contests, a boat-decorating competition and an amusing male-mate pageant. On Oct. 3, a flotilla of 100 vessels will set out to catch dolphin, kingfish and wahoo. Other prizes include biggest billfish (catch-and-release) and biggest meat fish (blackfin tuna, cobia, grouper and snapper). The weigh-in, an awards ceremony and the finale party will follow that evening at the event’s new home: Sailfish Marina Resort in Palm Beach Shores.
“These women—they just have so much fun,” McGrath says. “They are high on life. It’s the one weekend for them to feel like rock stars.”
Proceeds benefit Palm Beach County breast and ovarian cancer patients in financial need. The money helps to pay for medications, monthly bills and mortgages, as well as gift cards to gas stations and grocery stores. Last year, the tournament raised $65,000.
“It’s just a little bit of hope in a very dark time,” says McGrath, who heads another non-profit called H.O.W. (Hearing the Ovarian Cancer Whisper), which also benefits from the tournament.
H.O.W. focuses on education, outreach and research in addition to sponsoring fellowships for doctors treating ovarian cancer patients and scholarships for students pursuing careers in the gynecological field. Its mission aims to raise awareness of the all-too-frequently fatal disease.
“We’re not curing ovarian cancer, but we’re definitely lending a hand to some of the really big groups out there that are doing the research,” McGrath says. “This is what I’m supposed to be doing. I love my job.”