Michigan Ovarian Cancer Alliance will Turn the Town Teal to raise awareness of killer disease
Janet Miller | For AnnArbor.com
Fournier and her daughter, Pam Dahlmann of Ann Arbor, didn’t want other women to discover they had the disease after it became too late to do much about it, so they cofounded the Michigan Ovarian Cancer Alliance in 2011 as a way to promote early detection and offer support. While Dahlmann’s mother is gone, her work continues.
MIOCA, a partner member of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, will spread the word about ovarian cancer during September, which is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and with a Turn the Town Teal effort. (In the way that breast cancer awareness has pink as its signature color, ovarian cancer has claimed teal.)
On Thursday, Aug. 30, thousands of teal colored ribbons will be tied to lamp posts, utility poles and other places in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Chelsea, Dexter and more than a dozen other Michigan communities as a way to raise awareness. There will be awareness activities at farmers’ markets, art fairs, a University of Michigan football tailgate and more.
While 300 cities around the country will mark Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Michigan is the only state to have a multi-community effort, Dahlmann said.
Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of gynecologic cancers and the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women.
Awareness saves lives, Dahlmann said. “Your chances of a positive outcome are so much better when it’s found in Stage 1 or 2.” Her mother’s was diagnosed in Stage 4.
Once Fournier was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the fall of 2009, she went looking for help. But there was no support or advocacy group for ovarian cancer in Michigan. That’s when the mother and daughter decided to start MIOCA.
While both Dahlmann and her mother were trained as nurses, the ovarian cancer diagnosis came as a shock, even though Dahlmann’s maternal grandmother had died from ovarian cancer. It’s a sly disease. The symptoms masquerade as minor health annoyances or other medical conditions - bloating, feeling full quickly, abdominal pain, frequent urination. Unlike breast cancer and cervical cancer, there’s no test for ovarian cancer. So less than 20 percent of ovarian cancer is diagnosed early, when it is most treatable.
Around the time Fournier was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Marcie Paul of West Bloomfield was told she had it, too. “While ovarian cancer usually whispers, mine was shouting,” Paul said. “I had a pelvic mass.” But when doctors went looking for it using ultrasound, it was hiding, she said. It took doctors six months to finally make the diagnosis.
Ovarian cancer is not among the most common forms of cancer, said Paul, who is now MIOCA’s vice president. Ovarian cancer doesn’t receive the same attention as breast cancer, either by the public or the medical community, she said. “To be honest, there’s less than a 40 percent survival rate for five years. ” The five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with breast cancer is 89 percent.
“There are not a lot of survivors around to organize and create that kind of awareness. There’s a void,” Paul said.
Now she is trying to fill that void. Paul has lobbied lawmakers and speaks about ovarian cancer wherever she is invited.
For more information on National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, go to http://www.mioca.org/events.