Director of Programs, Ovarian Cancer Canada
Survival rates for those with ovarian cancer haven’t improved in 50 years. But enough is enough — it’s time for change.
Starla will never forget the phone call telling her she had a rare form of ovarian cancer. It came as a shock to the 23-year-old long-term care nurse. Two weeks before, she had been told the cyst removed from her ovary was likely nothing to be concerned about. A biopsy “just to be sure” confirmed otherwise.
She was just starting her career, with dreams of getting married and having a baby. Suddenly, Starla faced the fact that her life may be over before it ever truly began.
I first met Starla in 2016 at a support group luncheon in Saskatoon, and what struck me was that she was so young. Many people assume that this disease only affects women in later stages of life. I can assure you it does not. As the Director of Programs at Ovarian Cancer Canada, I’ve seen more stories like Starla’s than I can remember — and that’s simply unacceptable. This disease doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s time to make ovarian cancer a priority.
While women Starla’s age are thinking about mortgages and getting married, she was undergoing gruelling chemotherapy and countless surgeries, including a full hysterectomy. In the past 12 years, Starla has had many recurrences. She had no evidence of the disease when she adopted her son five years ago. During one recurrence, they found 17 tumours between her abdomen and rib cage.
Everyone with ovaries is at risk
What you may not realize is that everyone with ovaries is at risk of this disease. In fact, this year, 3,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Each one of them is someone’s daughter, partner, mother, or friend. Recurrence is common and more than half won’t live to see another five years. There’s no reliable screening test for this disease, and no vaccine to prevent it.
Now on her fifth reoccurrence, chemotherapy and surgery are no longer an option for Starla. Facing the reality of this disease, she worries about the day when her son will be told that his mom isn’t coming home.
It’s time for change
Investment in ovarian cancer research has lagged well behind other cancers such as prostate and breast cancer, despite a comparatively worse prognosis. Survival rates for those with ovarian cancer haven’t improved in 50 years. But enough is enough — it’s time for change.
In my role at Ovarian Cancer Canada, I’ve seen too many women with a prognosis like Starla’s. I’ve seen the grim outcomes, and I’ve seen too many families lose loved ones. I want to hear more hopeful stories — and the only hope for these women is a breakthrough in ovarian cancer research.
That’s why Ovarian Cancer Canada is here. We’re filling a gap and earning international recognition for Canada as a leader in pioneering transformative research and discoveries. We’re driving ovarian cancer research in Canada faster than ever before— building research capacity, unlocking insights into rarer forms of the disease, and addressing urgent needs. This vital work and laser-sharp focus include stopping the disease before it starts.
Improved outcomes are possible — finally
We’re on the cusp of breakthroughs that could change the face of this highly fatal disease — for good. My hope for this disease is a day when my job is no longer needed — a day when women like Starla wake up without the fear that they won’t see their children graduate.
But we cannot do this without support. Now is the time. Will you join us?
Be a part of change. Learn more at ovariancanada.org/timeforchange.