There are certain things that people tend to not want to talk about, but Tomiko Fletcher and her family are changing that with the memory of her mother and the Joanne W. Charles Memorial Foundation. Charles battled ovarian cancer for three years and it is their mission to raise awareness in the rural communities across the United States starting in Clarendon County. Ann Robinson, Charles’ sister and Clarendon County native, wanted to do something to honor her sister’s life and legacy so the foundation was born. Their first official event was held in April 2016 with a Joanne W. Charles Memorial Walk/Run with proceeds going directly to South Carolina Oncology Associates (SCOA), where Charles received treatments. Each year, the foundation honors Charles by hosting the walk/run held on her birthday weekend in April. Robinson said she was with her sister throughout the battle with ovarian cancer and did not want her death to be in vain.
Charles was an educator in Clarendon County for 28 years. She served as a teacher’s assistant, Special Education Teacher, and Parent Educator during her tenure with Clarendon School District 1. She had a heart for low-income families, and it was her job to help students and parents prepare for the coming school year, much like the Head Start Program across our state does now. As the first of ten children to attend college, “education is the foundation of our family,” Fletcher said. Even on family vacations, she and her sister would discover their mother had included education with a visit to a zoo or museum.
After the diagnosis of ovarian cancer, Charles continued to educate. She began encouraging women to listen to their bodies, get routine exams, and talk to their doctors about things that may seem out of the ordinary. She promoted open conversations between husbands and wives, daughters and mothers, and girlfriends. Her message was clear: Make time for your health. Robinson calls ovarian cancer a “silent killer” because it is not talked about enough. She said when most women are diagnosed, they are already at Stage 4. Through the foundation, rural communities are receiving information about early detection screenings and signs of ovarian cancer in different formats. They currently have a presence on social media platforms and a quarterly newsletter that is mailed to those who request it through their website. They are working on getting in touch with radio stations in the area to raise awareness and make ovarian cancer a topic of regular discussion. “We want to offer hope to patients and their families because it affects us all,” Fletcher said.
The Joanne W. Charles Memorial Foundation is continuing the legacy of education by holding a golf tournament at Lake Marion Golf Course August 20th. Tee time is at 9am and teams can still register by emailing: email@example.com. This is a Captain’s Choice tournament with contests for Closest to the Pin and Longest Drive. All proceeds will be donated directly to the SCOA Cares Foundation to assist those who need medical care related to cancer.
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