True friendship: Amy Bernstein on the Nancy Owens Breast Cancer Foundation
HOUSTON – (By Michelle Leigh Smith for Realty News Report) – On September 7, 2001, Nancy Owens, a much loved and respected legend in the Houston real estate arena, lost her courageous 20-year battle with breast cancer. One of Nancy’s final wishes was to dedicate a large part of her life to the fight against breast cancer and the continued advancement of its research towards finding a cure.
“She didn’t want others to have to go through what she went through,” says Amy Bernstein, who co-founded the Nancy Owens Breast Cancer Foundation along with several of Owens’ other colleagues.
It is that very dream that lives on today, and from which the Nancy Owens Breast Cancer Foundation was created. “Nancy was my mentor and my best friend,” says Bernstein, who won the prestigious John E. Wolf Award which acknowledges you are not only active in your industry but you are also active in giving back to the community. “’Never let a deal die in your court,’ was one of Nancy’s favorite expressions,” she says. “I think about that every day. I learned that it is essential to have balance in life and I learned the importance of your colleagues.”
“I learned a tremendous work ethic from Nancy,” says Bernstein, long a top producer on the Houston real estate scene and leader of the Bernstein Realty company. “She reminded me of what the word integrity meant every single day.”
“In 2001, we wanted to find a way to memorialize her name and to raise funds to finding a cure for breast cancer with Nancy’s close colleagues. We called it the Nancy Owens Memorial Foundation and now it’s called the Nancy Owens Breast Cancer Foundation (NOBCF).”
NOBCF has raised more than $2 million to fund public charities that support education, care, and research to find a cure for breast cancer. The 17th annual luncheon is set for October 22, 2018 at the Hilton of the Americas at 11 a.m. Grammy Award winning icon Melissa Etheridge, also a breast cancer survivor, will rock the podium as guest speaker. RSVP at NancyOwens.org.
“I feel like we are getting closer to a cure,” says Bernstein. “The word cancer is always scary, but I feel like not, it’s the beginning of a fight. It’s no longer the end because there has been tremendous progress in the treatment of breast cancer. I really feel like if Nancy had been diagnosed today she would be here to talk about it. I feel like we are very diligent stewards of the money. We research which doctors will be the recipients of the funds and every year, we learn about the advancements in the project which spurs us on the carry the torch in Nancy’s honor. We all have day jobs, but just seeing the good the money does keep us going.”
“I feel like everyone’s life has been touched by cancer, whether they have the diagnosis themselves or whether it’s a close friend,” she says. “This includes the caregivers of those fighting the disease. I feel like if we continue to help and raise funds and support those, I feel like there will be a cure. That’s what motivates me. Nancy was the true example of a lady first and foremost. She was a dedicated professional and a true friend. In the real estate industry, she was a legend. Her memory lives on not only in what she did professionally, but through the foundation.”
Owens bravely battled breast cancer over a 20-year period. Nancy grew up in St. Joseph, Michigan, and graduated from Michigan State University in 1971 with a B.S. in Interior Design. She moved to Houston in 1976 where she went to work for John Daugherty Realtors selling residential properties. In 1981, she co-founded Turner-Owens Properties real estate firm. She sold the company in 1986 and started Nancy Owens Properties. In an effort to simplify her life—after fighting off breast cancer for a second time in 1992—she returned to John Daugherty Realtors as a broker associate.
“Nancy often said, `When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.’” Bernstein recalls. “With very few exceptions, she found something good in people and in situations from which others might have retreated.”
During Owens’ illness she was supported by many friends, including Gloria Moorman, the Hon. Bonnie Hellums, Candy Caspersen, Cay Dickson, Lynn Mather, Cheri Fama, president and COO of John Daugherty Realtors and many other thoughtful, loving and supportive friends—in particular all of her real estate friends.
Bernstein, a night owl, has taught her agents the necessity of immediate follow-up. “I do my best to get back with everyone who has called,” she says. “It’s about making the most out of every day.”
The NOBCF also bestows a Spirit of Courage Award each year, recognizing extraordinary bravery in the face of adversity resulting from the diagnosis of cancer. This year, Wendy Bernstein is the 2018 recipient.
Donations from previous Foundation events have been given to the Houston Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine.
This year’s donation to Baylor College of Medicine funded the purchase of a machine that focuses on the cell-free circulation tumor DNA by analyzing the DNA physicians and scientists are able to define the genetic aberrations of a primary tumor or metastatic lesion.
This year’s donation to the Houston Methodist Research Institute Department of Nano Technology funded the research to develop a small implant, the size of a grain of rice, to deliver immunotherapeutic directly into the tumor to treat triple negative breast cancer called NDES.
This year’s donation to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center funded research to investigate ways of activating a patient’s own immune system to fight their cancer. The funds have allowed the initiation of a clinical trial evaluating vaccination in patients with the early stages of breast cancer to determine their immune response against that specific tumor.
Since its inception, the Foundation has donated over $2 million to organizations such as the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine, the Department of Nano Technology at Methodist Hospital and Immune Therapy Research at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Houston Affiliate of Komen for the Cure.