Throughout October, you will see pink ribbons show up on your TV screens and at your local supermarket. Breast cancer awareness month will be in full swing. However, September also was a month for women’s health, but unless you know someone who has had ovarian cancer, you probably didn’t know it was Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
There are no professional sports teams dressed in teal, the ovarian cancer awareness color. You didn’t see teal ribbons on every storefront. You didn’t see them on cereal boxes or lining the aisles of grocery stores. As someone who has a personal stake, I dedicated most of my time in September to raising awareness of the disease. I organized a yoga fundraising event in honor of my mom, who lost her life to the disease in 2016. I plastered my office and city with symptom cards (something I wish I would have seen before my mom got sick) to educate women. I posted on social media imploring my network of friends and colleagues to learn more about ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. According to the National Academy of Medicine, there remain “considerable and even alarming gaps in the fundamental knowledge and understanding of ovarian cancer.” In other words, we know very little as it relates to the causes, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure for ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is notoriously difficult to diagnose. Symptoms often are vague in early stages, and there is no effective screening test for the disease. As a result, roughly 80 percent of cases are not diagnosed until late stages, when treatment options are limited and chances for long-term survival are diminished.
More than half of the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer do not live five years beyond their diagnosis. Unfortunately, my mother was one of those women. She lost her life to ovarian cancer two short years after her diagnosis.
So as September ends and October begins, don’t just “think pink.” I ask you to remember teal. I ask that you get a teal ribbon, T-shirt, wristband, sticker or anything you’d proudly wear or display, because awareness shouldn’t just be one month of the year. This simple gesture is a powerful way to raise awareness and amplify the voices of the more than 14,000 women who will lose their lives to ovarian cancer this year. It could affect research funding, it could spark an informative conversation about the disease and, most importantly, it could save someone’s life.
• Bridget Toomey is an advocate leader with Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, is a presenter in its Survivors Teaching Students program and serves on the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center Patient and Family Advisory Council. She is pursuing her master’s degree in health care management at Johns Hopkins University.