Gillian Lichota

Gillian Lichota is a marine scientist who has spent two decades advancing scientific understanding of ocean and coastal science, climate and global change, and improving society's ability to plan and respond. When not being an advocate for the environment, Gillian dedicates her life to her beautiful children, Laykelyn and Kailen, and loving husband Boe. Gillian is also committed to inspiring, empowering, and supporting young women to rise above their breast cancer diagnosis. She believes in challenging old paradigms and changing perceptions of what it means to have breast cancer - that breast cancer does not define us.. Gillian strives to improve the quality of life for these women through a goal-oriented, mind-body-spirit approach to health and wellness, that circles each woman, and provides the resources and strategies for sustainable healthy living - ultimately improving quality of life and long-term survivorship.

Founder, Chief Executive Officer, Board of Directors Chair

Jessica Pender

Jessica Pender completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph. She continued her studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto and became a secondary school teacher in 2000.  In 2004 she completed her guidance specialist and is currently the guidance counsellor at St. Joseph’s High School in Renfrew, Ontario where she resides with her husband and two children. Her interests in the iRise Above Foundation are varied: there are social reasons, philanthropic reasons, and educational reasons. However, to put it simply, her involvement stems from her desire to make a difference; to help a friend make her vision a reality.  In turn, it is her hope that this vision will help many others set and achieve personal goals, aid in their physical, psychological and spiritual well being, and further breast cancer research.


Board of Directors, Co-Chair

Dagan LaCorte

Dagan LaCorte is Managing Member of L&L Partners Wealth Management, LLC. He also runs a family office that owns and develops commercial real estate. From 2009 – 2013 Dagan served as Mayor of Suffern, New York. Dagan is Treasurer of the Friends of JCC Krakow an organization dedicated to raising funds and awareness in support of the Jewish Community Centre in Krakow Poland. Dagan also serves as the Treasurer of the GhostBear Foundation. The GhostBear foundation was founded by NHL Defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere and supports and encourages organizations motivating young athletes as well as helping ill and disabled children and at risk or endangered animals. Dagan is a graduate of Union College in Schenectady New York and New York University School of Law. Dagan and his wife Stacy have two daughters ages twelve and eight.

Board of Directors, Treasurer

Dr. Vered Stearns, M.D.

Dr. Vered Stearns is a Board Certified Medical Oncologist in Baltimore, Maryland and serves as Co-Director of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Centers Breast Cancer Program.  Dr. Stearns received her M.D., from Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (1992) and went on to complete residency in Internal Medicine (1995) and a fellowship in Medical Oncology (1997) at MedStar Georgetown University Medical Centre. It was during her fellowship at Georgetown University where she first began focusing on breast cancer. 


In addition to being an extraordinary clinician, Dr. Stearns co-leads the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Program at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, is the associate director for oncology for the Johns Hopkins Clinical Research Network, and associate medical director for Johns Hopkins Singapore. As a translational scientist, Dr. Stearns aims to further an individualized approach to the prevention, treatment and care for people with or at risk of breast cancer. Currently, she focuses on the utilization of biomarkers to predict response to standard regimens used to treat and prevent breast cancer and to introduce new approaches. 

Board of Directors

Dr. Cole is a board-certified internal medicine physician with more than 15 years of medical, educational, and leadership experience.  His greatest passion is guiding patients achieve their best possible health, with emphasis on the interplay between preventative medicine, nutrition management, and the optimization of mental and physical fitness.  He has extensive experience as a primary care physician in clinical and academic medicine and has earned numerous teaching awards.  Dr. Cole is also an assistant professor of medicine at Frank H. Netter School of Medicine - Quinnipiac University.


Dr. Cole received his medical degree from University of Illinois College of Medicine. He completed his post graduate training at Yale-New Haven Hospital and additionally holds a Masters in Health Administration and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.  As a visionary, creative thinker, and entrepreneur in the field, he is an experienced leader in virtual healthcare who strives to expand patient access while ensuring the highest quality, evidence-based healthcare delivery models.


Outside of his professional roles, Dr. Cole plays ice hockey, is a life-long martial artist, enjoys travel and nature, plays guitar, and reveres spending time laughing with his family and friends. 

Board of Directors

Andrea Kassem RN, OCN, CBCN, CN-BN, NBC-HWC

A Breast Care Nurse Navigator for the Baptist Health System in San Antonio, TX, Andrea Kassem is an experienced Oncology Certified Nurse and a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach. She holds three additional oncology nursing certifications adding to her unique knowledge and experience. In addition, Andrea is an active member in a number of Professional Oncology Nursing Organizations. Andrea is passionate about working with women diagnosed with breast cancer not only to guide them through their treatment journey but to help them discover their personal strengths and optimal vision of health as cancer survivors.  Her role as a navigator allows her to provide one-on one personalized support to patients and their caregivers throughout their entire cancer journey.  A consistent face and voice through appointments, procedures and treatment, she empowers women with education and is available for 1:1 support. As a health coach, Andrea believes in constant curiosity, positivity, compassion and kindness. Through deep listening, she connects with patients and addresses and defines the critical components that women face before, during and after their journey. Above all, Andrea’s mission is to empower individuals to take charge of their health and wellness so they can live a life that is authentic, joyful and healthy.

Board of Directors

Matt Gembecki

Matt is a fundraising strategist with deep experience designing and implementing successful philanthropic plans that have collectively raised over $500 million for preeminent non-profit organizations around the world. Currently Matt is a Senior Director at Global Impact, an international non-profit organization focused on growing global philanthropy to help the world’s most vulnerable people. At Global Impact Matt leads the Advisory Services team and manages Global Impact’s partner engagements. Previously Matt was a Managing Director at Changing Our World, where he had worked since 2008. In this capacity he partnered with the some of the world’s largest non-profit organizations to help them achieve their philanthropic goals. Matt has developed strategies that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars for mission-drive organizations and has also been a featured speaker on topics related to trends in fundraising at conferences and events around the country. Matt holds a Master’s Degree in International Political Economy and Development from Fordham University. He also earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Fordham with a concentration in International Political Economy. Matt served on the Development Committee at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, MD. Matt resides in the Washington, DC area with his wife, Kristen, and daughters, Tess and Josie.

Board of Directors

Dyane O'Leary

Dyane O’Leary is a lawyer and an Associate Professor of Legal Writing at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, MA, where she also co-directs the law school’s Innovation & Technology concentration.  Prior to joining academia, Dyane practiced law in the complex commercial and intellectual property litigation groups at WilmerHale, LLP in Boston.  She holds a BA from Villanova University, where she was an Academic All-American soccer player, and a JD from Suffolk University Law School.  From coaching youth soccer to representing clients in domestic violence cases to assisting women with immigration concerns to mentoring law students with disabilities, Dyane has been a supporter of causes centered around helping young girls and women overcome challenges.  She believes in helping women find the “grit” to turn challenge into opportunity, and hesitation into celebration.  Her personal interest in iRise stems in part from the recent loss of both of her husband’s parents to cancer, and from watching their personal struggles not to let “cancer patient” become a defining label.  Dyane resides outside of Boston with her husband and three young children, and hopes to instill in each of them a determination to indeed rise above the obstacles life brings.

Board of Directors

Morgan Roth

Morgan Roth is a communications and brand strategist with experience across the international nonprofit, global education and national security sectors. Presently, the vice president of marketing and communications for a leading national defense contractor, Morgan previously led strategic communications for the USAID Soma Umenye project in Kigali, Rwanda, for the American University of Beirut and for The American University of Cairo. Her work has been recognized by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and she was named Nonprofit Communicator of the Year by PR News. Morgan is a graduate of McGill University, Montreal, Canada. She is a two-time alumna of the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina. Her interests interests include cooking, horseback riding and yoga. Morgan lives outside of Washington, DC.

Board of Directors

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A Breast Cancer Foundation to

Challenge Old Paradigms & Change Perceptions of What It Means to Have Breast Cancer

© 2017 The iRise Above Foundation is an Officially Registered 501(c)3 Nonprofit Organization, EIN: 82-3157631