Ovarian cancer: Mother fights to ‘move forward’ after loss of daughter

Paulinda Babbini and her daughter, Robin Babbini
Paulinda Babbini and her daughter, Robin Babbini

It’s been five years since West Hollywood resident Paulinda Babbini lost her daughter, Robin, at age 20 to advanced ovarian cancer. She grieved, but she also decided to act to prevent another mother from experiencing the devastation she suffered.

Babbini became a fundraiser for Dr. Sanaz Memarzadeh, whose G.O. Discovery lab is working on a better detection tool for ovarian cancer. Memarzadeh is also researching why some ovarian cancers appear to respond well to treatment, but then recur. In 2010, Babbini founded the Ovarian Cancer Circle/Inspired by Robin Babbini. To date, Babbini officially has raised $200,000 to fund Memarzadeh’s research. In reality, she’s done so much more.

Memarzadeh leveraged those funds to gather data that has so far resulted in $1.4 million in grants.

"Losing a child is an anguish no parent should ever experience. It is devastating. But how to move forward becomes the next challenge,” Babbini said. “I knew I had to give her brief life a lasting purpose. Committing myself to fundraising to fight ovarian cancer keeps her in my heart.”

On Sunday, May 1, Babbini will oversee her sixth annual fundraiser, Happily Ever Laughter, at the Comedy Store in West Hollywood, with all the proceeds going to UCLA. The comedians donate their time, and Whole Foods provides dinner. More information can be found about the event at www.theovariancancercircle.org/events/. Tickets can be purchased at the organization’s website, by calling 323-842-8100 or by emailing.

The event is Babbini’s way of going forward.

How the event began

Robin Babbini was initially diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in 2004 when she was 17. She was an active teenager and honor student, co-captain of the cheerleading squad and her school’s homecoming queen. It was unthinkable that she would have the disease at such a young age.

But Robin did have ovarian cancer, which will strike nearly 22,000 American women this year alone, killing more than 14,000. Ovarian cancer accounts for 5 percent of cancer deaths among women, and causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.

Robin Babbini

Robin underwent a total hysterectomy, followed by chemotherapy. Initially, it looked as if the treatment had worked, so Robin completed her classes, graduated from high school and began her freshman year at UC Santa Barbara.

Six months later, Robin learned that her cancer had returned – and spread. She underwent another surgery, and fought on, joining the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and continuing her studies. She served as co-captain of her team at the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life event. Just six weeks later, Robin lost her battle with ovarian cancer.

Donations from Babbini’s organization have enabled Memarzadeh and her team to make critical steps in understanding how ovarian cancers work, allowing them to delve into untested ideas that would not qualify for traditional grants.

Ovarian cancer is known to be highly responsive to chemotherapy, but the reasons for relapse have remained a mystery. Recently, by studying patient tumor samples gathered by Memarzadeh from UCLA patients, the G.O. Discovery Lab team has identified a subpopulation of ovarian tumor cells that are resistant to chemotherapy. They believe these chemotherapy-resistant cells, called serous cancer stem cells, are the culprit for high rates of relapse in ovarian cancer patients.

“The good news is that we have made major progress in finding ways that could eliminate these chemotherapy-resistant ovarian tumor cells,” Mermarzadeh said. “Through a collaborative effort with top-notch scientists at UCLA, myself and my team hope to refine these therapeutic strategies and once that’s done, the next step will be launching clinical trials.”

Fund-raising for such research is satisfying and meaningful, Babbini said.

“It has been an extraordinary experience to meet women of all ages throughout Los Angeles and at regional/national conferences,” Babbini said. “This networking deeply inspires me and continually renews my commitment, passion and dedication to the mission of the circle. It's critical to educate, heighten awareness and to raise funds for ovarian cancer research. We must work together to help each other. No one should suffer like my Robin.”

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