A Talk With Julie Ratner, The Co-Founder & President Of The Ellen Hermanson Foundation

The Ellen Hermanson Foundation will host its 28th annual run in Southampton on August 20 and it’s annual gala the following week on August 26. The foundation has been working for decades to ensure all East Enders have access to state-of-the-art breast health care.

Co-founded by Julie Ratner and her sister Emily Levin, the foundation was created in honor of their younger sister, Ellen, who died of breast cancer at the age of 42.

We spoke to Ratner about Ellen’s legacy, the foundation’s mission today, and the upcoming events.

Tell us about your sister Ellen Hermanson and her work as an advocate and activist against breast cancer.

My sister, Ellen Hermanson, was an articulate, courageous and indomitable warrior in the war against breast cancer. Her personal battle with the disease began in February 1989, when she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer while still nursing her six-month-old daughter. Ellen fought against her disease medically by undergoing surgery and aggressive chemotherapy.

Ellen also fought against breast cancer by becoming an activist and advocate. A journalist by training, she used her prodigious talent as a writer to give voice to the needs of breast cancer survivors and to educate her readers about the importance of being well informed, the challenges of living with breast cancer, and the availability of resources to help with the myriad problems that arise as a result of a breast cancer diagnosis. Her remarkable accomplishments attest to her extraordinary inner strength and selfless generosity.

Ellen Hermanson. Photo courtesy Ellen Hermanson Foundation

Ellen became an active member of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS), which advocates for survivors of all types of cancer. Later she served on its board and edited its quarterly newsletter, The Networker. When Ellen looked to her own heritage for spiritual support and sustenance, she found that what she sought did not exist. Instead of bemoaning this lack, Ellen became one of the founders of the Jewish Healing Center. She also served as the organization’s founding executive director and the first editor of its newsletter, The Outstretched Arm.

In the spring of 1992, Ellen was appointed the first executive director of the Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert. Ellen coordinated and organized their annual October symposium, bringing together doctors and lawyers to tackle cutting-edge issues in health law and policy confronting cancer patients. In the fall of 1992, Ellen was diagnosed with a recurrence of her disease, this time in her bones. Ellen continued her work. Although she underwent chemotherapy, and would remain on chemo for the rest of her life, her condition worsened. Ellen’s many projects included editing the Annual Report of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for 1993. In November 1994, Ellen delivered an important speech entitled “One Patient’s Pain” at the NCCS annual conference. Though she was weak, barely able to walk, and facing hip replacement surgery, her doctors agreed to delay the surgery until after the conference. It was at this conference that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor spoke of her breast cancer.

Ellen lost her hard-fought battle with breast cancer on April 11, 1995, at the age of 42. She was working on an article exploring the then new and exciting potential of the Internet as a source of information and sharing for patients and their families. Ellen left a legacy of dignity, courage, determination, grace, and love to all who knew her. To honor her memory, and ensure that her young daughter would always know that she had a very special mother, The Ellen Hermanson Foundation was established to support and continue the important work she began.

Tovah Feldshuh and Julie Ratner. Photo by Lisa Tamburini

Can you tell us about the mission of the Ellen Hermanson Foundation and the work you do on the East End?

The mission of The Ellen Hermanson Foundation is “to ensure access to state-of-the-art breast health care and empower people affected by cancer.”

The Foundation has worked tirelessly to operationalize our mission and make it a living legacy in the East End Community. Covid, with all its terror and upheaval, provided the Foundation with an opportunity to re-examine our mission.

In 2022 we launched The Ellen Hermanson Foundation Community Partnership to address the glaring inequities in access to breast health care. Together with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, The Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center, OLA (Organización Latino-Americana), The Retreat – All Against Abuse, and the Shinnecock Health Center, we created a program to reach women who historically have not had access to breast health care.  A diverse population – women of color, undocumented, economically challenged and living in abusive relationships, many of these women lack the resources to access the health care system often at the expense of their own health.

Additionally, The Foundation continues to fund the latest technology at The Ellen Hermanson Breast Center. Designated A Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology, the Ellen Hermanson Breast Center is equal to the finest teaching hospitals in an academic/urban setting. To maintain this position, the Foundation established a technology fund toward the purchase of a new Tomosynthesis Mammography Machine — a major focus of this year’s fundraising. Like all technology, it comes with a steep price tag. With a core belief that access to health care is a human right, we are committed to providing this necessary technology so that quality breast healthcare is available in our community.

Judi Donnelly and Julie Ratner at last year’s run. Photo by Kurt Leggard

This year marks the 28th annual Ellen’s Run. Can you tell us about the run and how it has grown over the years?

This year the 28th Annual Ellen’s Run will take place at the Southampton Intermediate School, 70 Leland Lane, on Sunday, August 20, at 9 AM. The 3.1 mile run is open to all runners and walkers who will receive a complimentary t-shirt, runners’ bib and finisher’s medal. Named the Best Sporting Event in the Hamptons by Dan’s Papers for many years, Ellen’s Run is highly anticipated by runners and walkers who can form teams and raise money, all of which will stay in the Hamptons, for our cause.  This year we are bringing back our awards ceremony, which was put on hiatus during Covid. It’s a great event and all are welcome. You don’t have to be a runner to join the fun. The course is beautiful and it always feels good to get a little fresh air!

Jean Shafiroff, Julie Ratner, Ingrid Arneberg at last year’s gala. Photo by Barbara Lassen

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s gala?

We are very excited about the gala that is taking place Saturday, August 26, from 6:30 to 10:30 PM at the Bridgehampton Tennis & Surf Club. The venue is beautiful with the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop, and there will be a post-party bonfire on the beach from 10:30 to 11:30. Our honorees are two extraordinary women who have contributed greatly to the local community: Dr. Edna Kapenhas, Medical Director of the Ellen Hermanson Breast Center and Victoria Schneps-Yunis, Publisher of Dan’s Papers. What I look forward to most with each gala is welcoming friends old and new to The Ellen Hermanson Foundation, breaking bread, sharing an evening of good fun and inspiration and of course raising the necessary funds to continue the work we do in the community.

Photo by Barbara Lassen

Aside from the run and the gala are there any other ways for the community to support the Ellen Hermanson Foundation?

Aside from the gala and run, we always welcome financial support throughout the year, and volunteers who come to our events representing the foundation with their unique warmth and enthusiasm. Fundraising is a year-round activity and we like to offer our donors opportunities to be involved. We happily accept suggestions for new and exciting ways to reach out to the community.

Jessica Mackin-Cipro


Jessica Mackin-Cipro is an editor and writer from the East End of Long Island. She has won numerous NYPA and PCLI awards for journalism and social media. She was previously the Executive Editor of The Independent Newspaper.

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