This past July, I had the privilege of attending the 15th annual Ovarian Cancer National Alliance conference in Washington, D.C. I did not know a single person before going but I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and see what this conference was all about since I’d heard great things about previous ones. The weekend was full of information about clinical trials, the latest research, and loads and loads of support from numerous organizations as well as fellow survivors. I had the honor of meeting – in person – some of my “teal sisters” that I’d met through an online support group. The energy and positive vibe throughout the weekend was fantastic. I learned so much from other survivors from how to deal with side effects to how to deal with stress to nutrition guidelines to getting involved in advocacy.
We had fabulous speakers including the physicians with the latest research, people who spoke about their personal journeys or the journeys of their family members, and Jack Andraka also spoke to us. He is the 15-year old who won the Intel award for developing a simple test (which only costs 3 cents) that has so far been 100% accurate in detecting pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancers. His test hasn’t yet been entered into human trials but he hopes to do that soon. He is a down-to-earth person who truly wants to find an early detection test for cancer and he may have found it. I, for one, am very grateful for his research. If you would like to see a bit more about him, please click the link: Jack Andraka Interview with Diane Sawyer Our keynote speaker was Miss USA, Olivia Culpo, who had been crowned a few weeks before the conference. Her mission for this year is to raise awareness about breast and ovarian cancers. She is a very well-spoken, kind, and intelligent young woman who will work tirelessly to promote this awareness.
In conjunction with the conference, I participated in Advocacy Day. I went to Capitol Hill with about 70 other women and families – including Miss USA – to advocate for research dollars and to advocate for September to be officially recognized as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. This was a totally new experience for me but it was very gratifying. I met with the staff members of the Senators and Congresswoman from my state. They were very receptive to my cause and listened to my story with concern. I told them that mortality rates have not changed in the last 40 years for women dealing with ovarian cancer and that this cancer affects all ages including 3-year old girls, teenagers, women in their 20s, etc. This is not an ‘older’ woman’s cancer. The statistics are grim but hopefully, in some small way, I hope I’ve made a difference to raise awareness and get research dollars to find an early detection test for this insidious disease.
I felt like I had met a whole new branch on my family tree during this trip and I was so bummed when the conference ended because I really enjoyed meeting everyone and sharing our experiences. Therefore, I jumped at the chance to attend a smaller conference in Boston this weekend that was organized by Ovations for the Cure. Again, I went to the conference not knowing anyone. (As it turns out, I met up with a woman I’d met at the DC conference and there was also a woman from my church who attended.) It was a one-day event but it also provided information and I again had the opportunity to meet other survivors. There was no cost for this event which was held at the Four Seasons in Boston. The conference was very informative and we were treated to a fabulous lunch in Aujourd’hui. After all the poking, prodding, needles, surgeries, chemicals, etc., of the past year, it was so refreshing to have had this opportunity to participate in a local event and have lunch in a 5-star restaurant at no cost to me.
What I learned at both conferences is that there are a lot of women living with ovarian cancer. I want to stress the word LIVING. These women and their families have such positive attitudes and they do not let anyone rain on their parades. They are intelligent women who ask intelligent questions and they will keep fighting to beat cancer. They will find the best clinical trial or the ‘right’ oncologist to work with to get into remission. Some are fighting for their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th remissions. They are the most open, considerate, and generous people that I have met.
Ironically, getting outside my comfort zone and meeting cancer survivors has provided a great deal of comfort to me. My goal is to continue to help women and provide support just like the women who have helped me. Yes, we are statistics but we don’t let statistics define us. We will beat the odds!